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Survey Finds Mainstream Acceptance of Green Behaviors

Eco-friendly behaviors are growing more socially acceptable to mainstream America, and any lingering stigma around “being green” is fading.

In fact, getting caught throwing trash out of the car window is more embarrassing to Americans than getting caught cheating on their taxes, according to a new survey.

The national poll, conducted by Shelton Group, found that environmentally unfriendly behaviors – such as littering or driving a gas guzzler – are emerging as a new definition of what’s socially unacceptable in America.

“Being eco-friendly is no longer considered a fringe activity limited to a small group of hard-core activists or early adopters,” said Suzanne Shelton, CEO of Shelton Group. “Thanks to years of green growth, messaging and new products, the idea of sustainability has finally permeated the American conscience.

The poll, which surveyed 1,105 Americans, asked, “How embarrassed would you be if someone you admire found out that you…” and then offered a series of behaviors. Here are the percentages for those saying they’d be “very embarrassed” if someone they admire found out they:

  • Shoplift – 73 percent
  • Got a DUI – 65 percent
  • Throw trash out of their car window – 59 percent
  • Cheat on their taxes – 57 percent
  • Smoke cigarettes – 36 percent
  • Don’t use their seatbelt – 32 percent
  • Drive a vehicle that gets 13 or 14 MPG – 26 percent
  • Don’t recycle plastic bottles – 18 percent
  • Most often use paper plates and paper towels/napkins instead of reusable products – 18 percent
  • Keep their thermometer set to 73 degrees year-round – 18 percent
  • Let the water run while brushing their teeth – 17 percent

“Being caught with your thermostat set at 73 degrees isn’t as embarrassing as getting a DUI,” Shelton said. “But research shows that once 20 percent of the population adopts a behavior, it has reached the tipping point and should grow steadily.

The survey examined what would encourage Americans to adopt eco-friendly behaviors even more quickly. Here are the percentages of respondents who said the following would be a “major influence” in changing their behavior to help the environment:

  • A penalty/fee/fine – 48 percent
  • A monetary reward/incentive – 45 percent
  • Learning about the dangers/risks – 44 percent
  • Learning about the benefits/greater good – 38 percent
  • Encouragement from your children, grandchildren, etc. – 30 percent
  • Seeing others you admire making the change – 27 percent
  • Encouragement from friends – 26 percent

Shelton compares the growth of green behaviors to quitting smoking. After long being a sign of “coolness,” smoking is now viewed as dirty or disgusting, thanks to years of anti-smoking messaging, public bans and social contagion (friends and family who quit smoking urging others to quit, too). Fewer than 20 percent of American adults are now smokers, down from 37 percent in 1970.

“Bad eco-habits will be kicked just like the smoking habit was,” Shelton said. “We don’t expect there to be complete adoption, but we clearly are moving in the right direction.”

Growing interest in green behavior was also reflected in a separate survey earlier this month by Cone Communications which found 77 percent of respondents would be willing to boycott a company if misled by green claims.

Bart King is a PR consultant and principal of Cleantech Communications.

Bart King is the principal and founder of New Growth Communications, a network of affiliated content producers and strategists serving clients in the emerging green economy. Follow him @bart_king and on LinkedIn.

[Read more about Bart King]

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