Eco-Slackers feel the pressure to keep up with Green-Joneses

From The Times August 24, 2007

Eco-slackers feel the pressure to keep up with Green-Joneses

Lewsi Smith, Environmental Reporter

Flaunting your green credentials has taken over from buying a bigger car or installing the latest electronic gadget as the preferred means of getting one over on the neighbours.

Where once the chattering classes would have vied to demonstrate the most conspicuous consumption, now they are competing to be the greenest.

Such a shift has taken place in attitudes to the environment that conversation at dinner parties is more likely to turn to who had the most environmentally friendly holiday rather than who went to the most exotic location.

The pressure to be seen to be green is so strong that nine out of ten people admit telling “little green lies” to avoid being labelled an eco-vandal, a poll has found.

The survey, commissioned by Norwich Union, found that more than half of the people questioned considered unethical living more socially unacceptable than drink-driving. Three-quarters said that ethical one-upmanship is now one of the main themes of conversation at the school gates or while having meals with friends.

Dr Peter Marsh, co-director of the Social Issues Research Council, said that the issue of being greener than the Joneses cropped up frequently during lifestyle studies. “You see it in cars. Yesterday you talked about brake horsepower, now people talk about carbon emissions from their car – even though it's a 4×4 tractor,” he said.

“People are seeking to rationalise their choices at all times. People are getting almost anal about it.” The growing anxiety to appear to be green was a reflection of what is perceived to be socially acceptable, he added.

“People have to demonstrate to others that they are in one way or another good people. It now expresses itself in environmental concerns. Before, it might have involved peace campaigning or women's rights. Green is the flavour of the new millennium. That's not to say that people aren't genuine; they do believe in what they say.”

The survey report, Be Good Guilt, highlighted concerns that, although people want to live ethically, they do not know where or how to start and so end up anxious and guilt-ridden.

A fifth of the 1,500 respondents said that they had little idea of what to do, and half said that they were too confused or had too little time to make their lifestyles greener.

Corinne Sweet, a psychologist, said: “We want to be ‘good' but often are too busy, or it seems too complicated, so we cut corners, or forget altogether, and then feel guilty.

“This can lead people to lie about their environmental actions – or inactions – or even to give up trying altogether, as it all seems too much to pack into our already too-busy lives. People are feeling a great deal of anxiety, irritation and fear that what they are doing is not enough or is wrong.”

Paul Stokes, of Norwich Union, said: “We've all been victims of ‘be good guilt', where we've wanted to behave more ethically, but feel confused about what positive steps will really make a difference. But behaving more ethically doesn't mean you need to overhaul your life or invest huge amounts of time or money.”

Mark Hedges, editor of Country Life, said that the urge to be green was an emerging phenomenon even among the wealthiest in society, who often spend huge amounts to make their mansions more environmentally friendly. “Amazing things are being done to make them green or carbon-neutral,” he said.

He added that drivers of 4×4 vehicles may receive as much scorn as smokers nowadays.

Ed Matthew, of Friends of the Earth, said: “This survey shows that people are clearly concerned about the need to take urgent action on climate change. The Government must take note and do much more to help people live greener lives. This means significantly strengthening its proposals for a new climate change law and introducing measures that make it much easier and cheaper for people to cut their emissions.”

Brownie points

– Walk, cycle or take public transport everywhere

– Grow own vegetables and flowers organically

– Time the family's showers

– Put a brick in the cistern

– Insulate their home

– Collect rainwater in barrels in the garden

– Compost food waste

– Recycle other waste

– Use renewable energy

– Install solar panels or wind turbines

– Refuse to holiday abroad

– Use a manual lawnmower

– Use only long-life bulbs Buy locally produced food to cut food miles

– Turn off appliances instead of using standby

– Use only wood products from sustainable forests

– Ditch plastic bags

– Turn the heating down

– Be buried in a wood with a tree planted on top

Sources: How many Lightbulbs does it take to Change a Planet? (Tony Juniper); Converting to an Eco-Friendly Home (Paul Hymers); How to Live a Low-Carbon Life (Chris Goodall); The Rough Guide to Ethical Living (Duncan Clark)

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