Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Canadians Losing Interest in the Environment

Canadian concern about the environment has dropped off a cliff in only 3 years with only 27% of Canadians concerned compared with 38% in 2008, according to a study conducted by Bensimon Byrne. Women exhibited the most striking drop where only 32% are concerned compared with 46% in 2008. Only 23% of Canadians are very motivated to make personal changes to benefit the environment although I'm sure this would have dropped dramatically had there been a proviso in the question that there would be a cost attached.

The authors explain that marketers need to consider the fact that environmental concerns are waning as a tool to attract consumers to their products. But certain environmental issues were more important than others such as the use of less packaging, recyclability and re-usability of the product rather than whether the company used greener fuels to run their operations.

The study found that environmental issues fall well behind concerns related to the price of gas, adequate pensions, the state of the economy, and ethics in politics. Either unethical politics has in the last 3 years threatened to dismantle the trust of Canadians or we've done a complete 180 on the importance of the environment.

The study authors attribute the drop to the dire economic situation, although 2008, when we cared about the environment, was the year that we experienced the greatest economic low. I recall studies in 2008 suggesting that "despite the economic horizon, consumers are still committed to acting green". On top of all this, at the time of the study, the Canadian economy was looking really good (unlike now).

The study seems to suggest that environmental consumerism is a bit of a fad, which dangerously suggests that company interest in this area will wane. This is a scary thought. I only wish that the environmental destruction we're causing as Canadians and global citizens echoed the reversible luxuries of a fad. But unfortunately market behaviour doesn't seem to reflect the realities of the environment.

I think consumers' thinning wallets is only part of the explanation here. Environmental issues are so distant in our minds. We don't see them around us like we do the gas prices on every street corner, stock market trends on every business website, the fluctuations of our investments through online banking and the behaviour of our politicians on the front page of every newspaper and website. So the media has a role here!

I think humanity is incredibly fickle when it comes to these sorts of issues that command long-term views and personal sacrifice. Only when a highly provocative video like The Inconvenient Truth comes out do we stop to think and perhaps make a couple of sacrifices. But each new documentary that illuminates the environmental realities we face has to out-revolutionize the previous for any of us to pay attention to it, otherwise it's the same old thing...more environmental awareness campaigns that we start to ignore. In fact, Al Gore is trying to revive this once global concern.

I haven't given up on my fellow Canadians yet. We're all very busy. But i know of many organizations, including businesses, that are playing very active roles in educating consumers about environmental issues and developing technologies and products that avoid the perceived trade-off between economic and ecological sustainability.

1 comment:

  1. Good thoughts. Thank you for sharing. Do you think a preponderance of negative news about the environment puts people off? Maybe that's an explanation for "green fatigue."