Protecting environment should be given priority, even if it slows economic growth, says ING Report.
The environment should be an economic priority even if it leads to slower growth, and companies that fail to adapt their business models will face consumer backlash, according to findings of the latest ING International Survey.
A majority (71%) of UK respondents* agree with the suggestion that slower growth would be a price worth paying to protect the environment, while despite price being of key importance when shopping for homewares, 69% of Brits, along with 64% of Europeans and 53% of Americans, agree that companies that don’t take steps to go green will experience consumer backlash over time.
The results come amid growing calls to action from movements such as Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg’s climate change campaign, while Sir David Attenborough’s series exposing plastic levels in the ocean has also driven mass interest in the subject.
Sustainability is a macroeconomic and systemic issue, which comes with broader prioritisation, cooperation and measurement challenges. For the circular economy to work effectively, it is fundamental that all stakeholders fully participate, demonstrating a collective action problem.
Many consumers say they already support a movement towards a circular economy by reducing, reusing and recycling products. The survey also suggests consumers are willing to bear some of the cost of sustainability. While a financial incentive could increase recycling overall, many (46%) say they would do it anyway, and repairing a broken fridge makes sense for half of Brits, if the repair costs up to 40% of a new replacement.
But attitudes towards the circular economy differ across countries. Within the UK, eight in ten (79%) say they always separate their waste at home, compared to 92% of Italians, and just 39% of Turks. Discrepancies in local circular activities may be partially explained by established local norms – both cultural and social – and access to recycling and repair facilities, as well as contextual influences such as how fast items can be repaired and the perceived value of doing so.
Most respondents also acknowledged the problem of over-consumption in their home countries, with 64% of Brits, 64% of Americans and 60% of Australians saying people in their country are excessively focused on consumption.
In ING’s 2018 IIS survey on sustainability, consumers pointed to cost and a lack of knowledge as key barriers to changing their behaviour. This year’s findings verify the challenge of turning attitudes into action. Despite over a third (39%) naming plastic waste as the greatest environmental challenge we face, 94% of Brits say they throw plastic away daily.
At the same time, consumers recognise that initiatives from businesses and broader structural change will be needed if individual efforts are to have a coordinated impact. Supermarkets, for example, should not provide any single use plastic packaging or plastic bags, 65% of Brits say. The perception is that businesses have been slow to respond to such consumer demands. Less than a third (30%) of respondents could name a company that has changed how it operates to reuse and repair its products, but optimistically, just 23% of respondents* expect the amount of plastic used to package food produce to increase, 74%* expect it to decrease.
Jessica Exton, Behavioural Scientist, ING, said: “While it’s clear that awareness of environmental challenges is high, this has not yet been met with a corresponding level of behavioural change. While consumers are conscious of the urgency of the problem at hand, our survey results suggest, unsurprisingly, that awareness and information doesn’t automatically translate into changed habits or behaviours. The short and long-term impacts of context-dependent choices aren’t easy to calculate, making decision-making on a day-to-day basis challenging.
And changes can’t only be behavioural. Sustainability is a macroeconomic and systemic issue, which comes with broader prioritisation, cooperation and measurement challenges. For the circular economy to work effectively, it is fundamental that all stakeholders fully participate, demonstrating a collective action problem. We need coordination of individual efforts to provide assurance that every-day efforts to repair a bicycle or reuse plastic bags will have their intended effect.”
* Half of survey respondents were asked this question