Lifestyle Survey Reveals Environmental Attitudes Hit Home

There has been a marked improvement in environmental awareness in Ireland over the past decade reveals the ConsEnSus Lifestyle Survey just published today by NUI Galway and funded under the EPA’s STRIVE Research programme. The same survey reports that approximately one fifth of all survey respondents had changed their energy supplier to a renewable energy supplier in the past five years and a large percentage (almost 70%) of respondents stated that the re-introduction of water charges would lead to a change in water usage.

The ConsEnSus (Consumption, Environment and Sustainability) Lifestyle Survey was carried out by researchers in the School of Geography and Archaeology at NUI Galway with 1,500 households nationwide between 2010 and 2011. The aim of this survey was to obtain an understanding of people’s attitudes and behaviours towards sustainable household consumption and sustainable lifestyles. The survey explored respondents’ household behaviours in the areas of mobility, food, water and energy use. The questionnaire also examined attitudes towards the environment, towards environmental responsibility as well as attitudes towards perceived levels of environmental control and perceptions of quality of life.

According to the project manager Dr Frances Fahy, lecturer in Geography at NUI Galway: “The survey is the first of its kind in the island of Ireland and the results have produced a huge database on public attitudes and actions towards consumption and sustainable lifestyles. The respondents were asked questions that went further than how and when they undertook certain everyday activities – for example transport to work choices, water or energy conservation activities – focusing on why they undertake these activities. The results provide extremely useful data revealing underlying motivations for many consumption activities and lifestyle choices.”

Environmental Concern

The study found encouragingly high levels of reported environmental concern (86% or 1,289 respondents stated that they were concern about the environment). Similar levels of environmental concern were recorded across all age cohorts; with slightly higher levels of concern noted amongst respondents in the 50-65 age category (88%) and also in the 65-79 age group (88%), in comparison to respondents in the younger 18-33 age categories (83%).

Over half of the respondents (58%) felt that they needed ‘to behave in a more environmentally friendly way’ and 82% believed that their personal behaviour could make a difference to the environment.

In the Lifestyle Survey approximately two-thirds of all respondents agreed with the statement, ‘I trust eco-labels’. 66% of survey respondents stated that they pay attention to where and how the food they buy is produced.

Food Waste

Within the sustainable food movement, a particular concern is the large amount of waste occurring at every stage of the food chain. Many factors contribute to food waste and recent reports estimate that wasted food costs each Irish household approximately €700 annually (EPA, 2011). The findings highlight public attitudes and behaviour towards food waste in Irish households. A significant majority of respondents (89%) agreed with the statement ‘I try to reduce the amount of food waste my household produces’. The most common reasons for throwing food away are: ‘Too much is bought and it expires’ and ‘Food goes off because of a change in plans’. Just over a third of all participants claimed to never throw food away.

With the cost of providing clean drinking water escalating, and with the proposed re-introduction of water charges for domestic dwellings, water and water conservation in particular, has become a very important issue for policy makers, businesses and consumers alike. The Lifestyle Survey found that a substantial number of respondents to the survey (40%) stated that they do not pay attention to the amount of water they use in their homes. Over one third of all respondents (34%) reported drinking bottled water on a daily basis.

80% of all respondents surveyed across the island stated that there is ‘a need to save water’ with just 10% of respondents believing that there was no need to conserve water.

Finally, 68% of survey respondents stated that the re-introduction of a water charge would change their water usage.

Changeover to Renewable Energy Suppliers

Just over one fifth of respondents (21%) had changed to a renewable energy supplier in the past five years. Of these respondents; 65% stated ‘financial reasons’ as their rationale for this behaviour and only 9% reported ‘solely environmental reasons’. Respondents in the 34-49 age group were most likely to have changed to a renewable energy supplier.

The Lifestyle Survey found that although almost three quarters of all respondents (73%) stated that they would be willing to install insulation in their homes, less than one quarter of respondents (23%) had actually done so in the past five years.

Transport

71% of respondents who reported commuting to work, school or college stated that they usually drive a car. When respondents were asked what would encourage people to reduce their car journeys, 53% of the sample stated ‘improved, more affordable public transport’, 12% of the people reported ‘financial incentives to encourage walking and cycling’ and a further 12% citied ‘improved bike lanes, footpaths and pedestrian crossings’.

Respondents who failed to use available public transport viewed it as ‘too restrictive’ (42%), ‘too unreliable’ (11%) and ‘too expensive’ (7%). 27% of urban dwellers who participated in the survey stated that there was no public transport available at all for their commute to work, school or college. The survey indicates that rural Ireland is particularly affected by gaps in public transport provision. Almost half of all rural respondents reported that there is no public transport for their commute to work, school or college.

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