Climate-conscious Brits ridden with ‘green guilt’

Feeling distressed every time you buy a plastic bag at the checkout, forget your re-useable coffee cup or eat the meat you’ve been served at a dinner party? You could be suffering from green guilt, and you’re not alone.

By Sarah Lewis

Feeling blue when you can’t be green

Just under two-thirds (64%) of adults regularly feel a pang of green-ridden guilt for taking actions that are bad for the environment, according to a study by Aviva.

Of the 4,000 people surveyed, many admitted to feeling uncomfortable when doing things like buying plastic bags (28%), not recycling (25%) and eating meat or fish (14%).

Some climate-conscious Brits even feel ‘green guilt’ for putting the heating or tumble drier on or using their car for a short trip.

Not all eco-talkers are eco-walkers 

Controversially, one in eight UK adults (12%) also admit to talking up their eco-friendly actions to others in order to appear more virtuous, while a further 23% of us are tempted to do the same.

It seems that green guilt is made worse when we see others making more of an effort. More than half (53%) of people said they’ve seen other people showing off their environmentally friendly actions, either in person or on social media.

Guilt-provoking behaviour Percentage of UK adults feeling guilty about doing this 
Buying / accepting a plastic carrier bag in a store 28%
Buying a drink / food in a single-use plastic bottle / container 25%
Putting recyclable items in a non-recylcing bin 25%
Putting the heating on 22%

Using the car for a short journey

22%
Using a tumble dryer 18%
Eating meat / fish 14%
Driving a non-electric vehicle 14%
Travelling on an aeroplane 12%
Eating dairy / eggs 11%
Buying non-recycled toilet roll 10%

This is more common among younger age groups, with four-fifths of people under-35 having witnessed green virtue signalling.

Green behaviour on the rise 

People are perhaps being too hard on themselves, as the survey shows more consumers are making positive changes after a fall in green behaviour owing to the pandemic.

Green behaviour Percentage of UK adults doing Dec '19 Percentage of UK adults doing Feb '21 Percentage of UK adults doing Feb '22
Recycling through local bin collections 73% 51% 71%
Giving unwanted items to charity shops 67% 43% 63%
Avoiding single-use plastic items 61% 36% 46%
Turning down the thermostat at home 59% 27% 68%
Eating local / seasonal vegetables and fruit to reduce food miles 37% 25% 33%
Reducing the amount of meat eaten in your household 32% 21% 30%
Buying second-hand items / upcycling 40% 20% 36%
Reducing how often you travel by plane 22% 17% 25%
Becoming vegan 5% 4% 6%

According to the report, people’s green habits are almost back to pre-pandemic levels, having dipped in 2021.

Green-fluencers

The number of people who are influenced by the green credentials of a brand also went up by 10%. 

In December 2019, 68% of UK adults said they were influenced by the extent to which an organisation is climate-aware, this now stands at 78%.

Older generations the greenest 

The study found that, as a general rule, the older people are, the more likely they are to adopt green behaviours. 

There’s still room for improvement, particularly among under-25s. People aged 16-24 are half as likely to carry out certain eco-friendly actions, compared to the national average.

Just a third (34%) of under-25s say they recycle through bin collections, compared with the national average of 71%. When it comes to recycling the over 75s have can be considered the greenest generation, with 90% recycling in bin collections.  

The number of under-25s who say they don’t care or worry about climate change is double the national average, at 6% compared to 3% across all age groups. 

The exception to this trend relates to veganism, which is significantly more popular with under-25s. One in 10 people in this age group eats a plant-based diet, compared to 6% across all respondents. 

Who says it’s difficult getting kids to eat their greens?

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