The latest Harris Interactive poll on American consumers’ green behavior is out, and the news is mixed. Participants were asked what activities they had done in the last year, ranging from installing more energy-efficient light bulbs (63%) to starting to pay bills online (46%) to installing a low-flow toilet (16%). 41% had recycled an electronic device, while 36% had purchased energy-efficient appliances. 17% regularly bought organic products and 17% had installed a low-flow shower head. The poll questioned 3,100 U.S. adults between July 7 and September 8 of this year.
With this poll, as always, it is human nature to try to give the most “socially acceptable” responses, and so some of these answers may be more indicative of perceptions of green behavior rather than actual actions. While some of the suggested actions (changing light bulbs or switching from bottled water to tap) are equally possible in most homes, taking public transportation or installing low-flow toilets is not an available option for many. One person’s easy fix might be another person’s nightmare: “I’ll pay my bills online and go paperless, but no way am I going to unplug my computer every night!” “Yeah, I buy local and in bulk to save on packaging and transportation….now you want me to take shorter showers?”
Sustainability is a path, not an on/off switch. That path is long and challenging, and it will become more challenging as we slowly but surely accomplish the “easy stuff”, and move on to reconfigure how and where we live, to include more than individual actions. True sustainability will involve conscious change, some of which may not be comfortable: We may have to cut back consumption, especially as millions in the developing world strive to reach for a “middle class” lifestyle. We may have to give up dearly held habits and freedoms, like climbing into a car, even a hybrid, without carefully considering the impact. But the challenges of going green have inherent rewards: the satisfaction of knowing you’re doing good, a renewed sense of community, and a healthier society. It’s important to guard against the “holier than thou” attitude that some greenies take…and I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve preached the gospel against high fructose corn syrup or for the joys of my wonderful composting worm bin. Did my sermons inspire change? I suspect a little humility would have been more effective.
Most of us are doing some things that are more environmentally conscious. All of us could do more. Can we get past preaching to supporting each other, no matter where we are on the path?
Care2 has often written about these issues. Check out:
Building toward a Greener Future to read more about green buildings Three US Cities Switch to Paperless Mail and Healthy and Green Living’s Green 101 (this Causes sister site is crammed with useful information.
Photo: SilverFox09 from Flickr under Creative Commons license