by Kevin Daly
Jun 23, 2021
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An eco-friendly lifestyle has never been more on-trend. Innovation in energy-efficient home upgrades, the rise of reusable shopping bags, city bans on single-use plastics, and sustainable clothing lines have made it easier to be more eco-conscious in our day-to-day choices and activities. And while everyone can make a positive impact on the environment through small, sustainable changes in their purchases, recycling practices, and even eating habits, some people may be making even bigger changes than metal straws and all-natural cleaning products. So, we wanted to know: how eco-friendly are Americans?
To find out, we surveyed 1,000 Americans with questions about eco-friendly practices, recycling habits, the role going green plays in their relationships, and more. Read on to see how people across genders and generations say their lifestyles help protect or further damage the environment.
The U.S. accounts for 12% of the world’s municipal solid waste generation and holds a global ranking of 24th for national environmental health. Despite this less than stellar performance, 95% of Americans rate their lifestyles as at least somewhat eco-friendly, with more than a third of survey participants (36%) firmly in the eco-friendly category. 55% of millennials deemed their lifestyles eco-friendly or very eco-friendly; Gen-X respondents were almost 11% less likely to rate their lifestyles as eco-friendly than their millennial counterparts.
It’s worth noting that 55% of respondents say they pretend to care more about the environment than they actually do—it’s possible that these same people may be rating their eco-friendliness a bit higher than necessary. Still, it seems that many Americans are on the right track—but how warranted is this confidence when we zoom in on daily green practices?
At home, Americans have an easier time maintaining an eco-friendly lifestyle. Small scale, personal habit adjustments, like recycling all recyclable materials or exploring a vegetarian diet, seem to be practiced by a greater number of survey participants than those that may impact their lives more often outside the home, like limiting their air travel or buying sustainable clothing. So which green habits are Americans nurturing, and which are too extreme?
Firstly, 73% of people recycle all or most of their recyclable materials, and they do this with a high degree of confidence; 71% of people say they are confident in their knowledge of what can and can’t be recycled (looking at you, pizza box). Other respondents are mindful of their water usage; 50% of people take 5-10 minute showers, and 42% of people rarely or never use single-use plastic water bottles. And when shopping, over half of participants (57%) bring reusable bags for their groceries all or most of the time.
So, how far is too far when it comes to implementing a more eco-friendly lifestyle? For many Americans, compromising on fashion, travel, and transportation isn’t easily done. 70% of people shop from fast fashion companies like H&M, Victoria’s Secret, and Nike. Almost 30% of people walk, bike, or use public transportation instead of driving only once a week or less, and 31% of people would not consider limiting their air travel to help the environment—even though the aviation industry is one of the fastest-growing fossil fuel consumers. For these Americans, convenience while traveling may be more important than the ecological impact, no matter how severe that impact may be.
And although everyone can positively affect the health of the environment, not all participation is equal—even with 43% of respondents reporting feeling pressure to lead a more eco-friendly lifestyle. This survey revealed striking differences across genders and generations. 52% of women rarely or never use single-use plastic water bottles, while only 35% of men report the same. 33% of Gen-Z respondents walk, bike, or use public transportation instead of driving on a daily basis, while 43% of Baby Boomers rarely or never use alternate methods of travel. 56% of millennials have tried to maintain a vegan or vegetarian diet, but 48% of Baby Boomers aren’t interested in meatless meals.
If one thing is clear, it’s that there’s more than one way to maintain an eco-friendly lifestyle. But how far do eco-friendly choices extend?
Move over, “still lives with parents” and “wears flip flops on dates”—climate change denial is the new relationship dealbreaker! For many survey participants, practicing an eco-friendly lifestyle extends to their personal lives, and going green may actually mean going solo if their partner’s views and habits are less than Earth-conscious. Over half of respondents (51%) would break up with a partner who didn’t believe in climate change. This number is even higher for young people—60% of Gen-Z respondents and 56% of millennials would end a relationship with a climate change denier.
Some eco-friendly Americans have a broader bone to pick with their partners: 53% of people would end a relationship if their partner didn’t care about the health of the environment. Still others are more particular about their partner’s green habits: 33% of Baby Boomers and 32% of Gen-X respondents wouldn’t consider a relationship with someone who doesn’t recycle.
With the opportunity for love on the line, are Americans willing to lead a more eco-friendly lifestyle?
Good news, eco warriors—70% of people are likely or very likely to make their current lifestyles more eco-friendly! This number is even more impressive regarding Gen-Z respondents, with 78% of adults ages 18-23 likely or very likely to increase the eco-friendliness of their lifestyles.
So, what are they willing to do to go even greener? 68% of people are most willing to practice recycling all recyclable materials to help protect the environment; 52% of people are most willing to invest in a reusable water bottle to help protect the environment; 33% of people are most willing to switch from driving to walking, biking, or using public transportation; and another 44% of people are willing to start at-home composting their food waste.
If you’re looking to increase the eco-friendliness of your lifestyle, start at home with simple changes like:
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