By a wide margin, most Americans consider themselves to be environmentally conscious. But when it comes to walking the walk, some are more environmentally responsible than others.

With the hottest year on record behind us, January and February a warm memory and Earth Day right around the corner, we decided to gauge American attitudes on being environmentally responsible at home. In an online survey conducted in March 2016 by Harris Poll on behalf of Trulia, we asked more than 2,000 Americans about what they thought were the best ways to live green.

The good news is that 79% of Americans agree that they consider themselves an environmentally conscious person, and only 6% strongly disagree with that statement. But as it turns out, it ain’t easy bein’ green. Only 26% of Americans say that they actually consider the environment in their daily actions beyond recycling and turning off the lights. Moreover, people have widely varying opinions on what’s the best way to reduce their home’s carbon footprint. When they do agree, it’s not always on the highest impact methods.

As we dug deeper into the national, political, and sociodemographic differences among U.S. adults, we found some interesting contrasts:

  • Among Americans who strongly agree that they are environmentally conscious, 73% said they consider the environment in their actions at least once a day.* This group was also much more likely practice what they preach when it came to actually being environmentally responsible.
  • A majority of Democrats and Republicans talk the environmental talk, with 85% of Democrats agreeing that they consider themselves environmentally conscious and Republicans not far behind at 74%. However, Democrats were more likely to walk the walk than Republicans when it comes to ever taking action based on environmental considerations (94% vs. 88%, respectively).
  • Boomers (ages 55+), are significantly more likely to act environmentally responsible by buying energy efficient appliances, making energy efficient upgrades to their homes and living in a smaller home than their younger cohorts (69% compared with 55% those ages 54 and younger).* Millennials (18-34 year olds), on the other hand, are more polarized on the issue than any other generation with the highest proportion strongly agreeing and disagreeing that they are environmentally conscious.
  • In general, as a person becomes more educated, so does the degree to which they consider themselves to be environmentally conscious (75% of those with a high school or less education, 79% of those with some college and 84% of those with a college degree or higher consider themselves an environmentally conscious person). But as the level of education increases, so does one’s income, home size and the storage space used* – the last two of which are environmental no-no.

Regardless of the degree to which Americans consider themselves environmentally conscious, many agree that the top three ways for someone to act environmentally responsibly are to buy energy efficient appliances for their home (56%), make energy efficient upgrades to their home (55%) and bike, walk, or take public transportation to frequented destinations (38%).

Curiously, what seem like easier, cheaper and higher impact actions like living in a smaller home (16%) and buying renewable electricity from a utility provider (10%) are not nearly as high on the list of ways to be environmentally responsible. Americans seem to agree: Buying energy efficient appliances for the home is among the best ways to be environmentally responsible, more so than living in smaller homes.

Yet money is a barrier to being environmentally responsible. While some Americans believe that installing solar panels (28%) and driving a hybrid or electric car (18%) are among the best ways for someone to be environmentally responsible, few actually do so themselves (12% and 12%, respectively). Trulia believes that this is likely a result of the larger initial investments required. Similarly, people are less willing to pay price premiums for energy efficient appliances as the baseline price gets more expensive even if it’s considered the best way to be environmentally responsible. For a $50 appliance or electronic, 76% of environmentally conscious Americans are willing to pay a premium for energy efficiency, followed by 58% of Americans who aren’t environmentally conscious.* But when the baseline prices starts at $2,000, those numbers drop to 53% and 36%, respectively.* As you can see from the table below, there are some big differences in what Americans believe are the best ways to be environmentally conscious versus what they actually do.
greenday_V5_inline2

Opinions on Best Ways to Be Environmentally Conscious Compared with Actions Taken
Agree or Disagree They Consider Themselves Environmentally Conscious
Somewhat/Strongly Disagree Somewhat Agree Strongly Agree
Among Best Ways What They Actually Do Among Best Ways What They Actually Do Among Best Ways What They Actually do
Buy energy efficient appliances for their home 52% 48% 59% 61% 51% 70%
Make energy efficient upgrades to their home (e.g., replace drafty windows) 44% 39% 61% 51% 51% 65%
Bike, walk, or take public transportation to frequented destinations (e.g., work, school, grocery store) instead of drive 34% 30% 38% 32% 43% 49%
Install their own alternative energy source (e.g., solar panels, wind turbine(s), geothermal) 29% 11% 26% 10% 32% 17%
Carpool to frequented destinations (e.g., work, school, grocery store) instead of driving separately 24% 18% 23% 23% 25% 27%
Drive a hybrid or electric vehicle to get to frequented destinations (e.g., work, school, grocery store) instead of gasoline or diesel vehicles 12% 8% 19% 11% 21% 19%
Live in a smaller home instead of a larger home 17% 20% 16% 28% 16% 28%
Buy renewable electricity from a utility provider 6% 9% 10% 12% 13% 19%
Buy used furniture/appliances instead of new 9% 13% 9% 21% 13% 26%
Note: Based on Trulia Analysis of the survey findings

 

Political Differences

While an overwhelming majority of Republicans and Democrats say they consider themselves environmentally conscious (85% and 74%, respectively), there were some differences in enthusiasm and behavior. Significantly more Democrats strongly agreed that they consider themselves environmentally conscious at 28% compared with 12% among Republicans. Moreover, 44% of Democrats say they consider the environment at least daily in their actions while just 31% of Republicans say the same.

When asked what the best way to act environmentally responsible is, Republicans were much more home-centric while Democrats were more focused on transportation. Comparatively, Republicans were more likely than Democrats to say making energy efficient upgrades to their home is among the best ways to be environmentally responsible (62% vs. 54%, respectively), while Democrats were more likely to say biking, walking, or taking public transportation (45% vs. 27%, respectively) and driving hybrid or electric vehicles (19% vs. 14%, respectively).

However, Democrats tend to actually act environmentally responsible at a higher rates than Republicans. So while 62% of Republicans say making energy efficient upgrades to the home is one of the best ways for someone to be environmentally responsible, only 53% actually do so. Democrats, conversely, do actually bike, walk or take public transportation at a higher rate than Republicans (42% vs. 26%, respectively) and are also more likely to drive hybrid or electric vehicles (15% vs. 10%, respectively).

Opinions on Best Ways to Be Environmentally Conscious Compared with Actions Taken
Political Affiliation
Democrat Republican
Among Best Ways What They Actually Do Among Best Ways What They Actually Do
Make energy efficient upgrades to their home (e.g., replace drafty windows) 54% 50% 62% 53%
Bike, walk, or take public transportation to frequented destinations (e.g., work, school, grocery store) instead of drive 45% 42% 27% 26%
Carpool to frequented destinations (e.g., work, school, grocery store) instead of driving separately 24% 27% 29% 23%
Drive a hybrid or electric vehicle to get to frequented destinations (e.g., work, school, grocery store) instead of gasoline or diesel vehicles 19% 15% 14% 10%
Note: Based on Trulia Analysis of the survey findings

Socio-demographic Differences

Attitudes towards green living also varied considerably across different age groups, but surprisingly, Millennials and Gen X’ers were not America’s most environmentally conscious generation. More Americans aged 65 years or older (84%) consider themselves to be environmentally conscious than 18-34 year olds (76%) and 35-54 year olds (78%).

Another contrast: Millennials are the most polarized age group when it comes to being environmentally conscious, with the highest proportion of respondents who strongly disagree (8%) versus strongly agree (24%). Millennials are also the only age group with significant differences between men and women. More Millennial men (32%), strongly agree that they are environmentally conscious, than millennial women (17%). Meanwhile, 29% of millennial women actually disagreed compared with 19% of millennial men.

 

I Consider Myself An Environmentally Conscious Person
Strongly / Somewhat Agree (NET) Strongly Agree Somewhat Agree Strongly / Somewhat Disagree (NET)
18-34 Year Olds 76% 24% 52% 24%
     Men (18-34) 81% 32% 49% 19%
     Women (18-34) 71% 17% 54% 29%
35-54 Year Olds 78% 19% 59% 22%
55-64 Year Olds 82% 21% 61% 18%
65+ Year Olds 84% 16% 68% 16%

But intentions aside, Boomers, aged 55 or older, actually take actions specifically based on environmental considerations, beyond recycling and turning off the lights, on a daily basis or more at a rate of 44% compared with 34% for the rest of the population.* Some of the environmentally responsible activities that they reported doing at higher rates than younger cohorts included buying energy efficient appliances (69% compared with 55% those younger than 55), and making energy efficient upgrades to their home (58% compared with 47% for those younger than 55), which require more of a monetary investment.* Meanwhile, 18-34 year olds chose more cost-effective green activities than their older counterparts, such as biking, walking or taking public transportation (47% compared with 31% for those 35+), and carpooling to frequent destinations (34% compared with 18% for those 35+).*

greenday_V5_inline1

Aside from age, education also plays a big factor in living green. Americans with a college degree are more likely to say that they consider themselves environmentally conscious (84%) compared with those with a high school education or less (75%). Among this more educated group of Americans, more believe driving a hybrid or electric vehicle (22%) is among the best ways for someone to be environmentally responsible than their less educated peers who have a high school education or less (16%).

As education increases, so does household income and overall consumption.* Americans with a higher education tend live in larger homes and use more spaces for storage of stuff*, despite that being an environmental no-no. Larger homes require more raw materials to produce and more energy to maintain than smaller homes. Similarly, all that idle stuff being stored in dedicated rooms required raw materials and energy to produce and ship at one point. Even just among those who somewhat or strongly agree they are environmentally conscious, 40% with a college degree or more live in home larger than 2,000 square feet versus 21% of those with a high school education or less.* When asked where theye stored miscellaneous “stuff” (e.g., old clothes, old books, holiday decorations, second refrigerator or freezer), 67% of Americans with a high school education or less report having no more than two dedicated storage spaces in their home, versus 55% of those with more education.*

Home Size and Dedicated Storage of Environmentally Conscious Americans By Education Level
Square Footage or Storage Space High School or Less Some College College Grad or More
2,000 Square Feet or Less 61% 60% 54%
More than 2,000 Square Feet 21% 29% 40%
Not Sure 17% 12% 6%
Average Dedicated Storage Spaces 2.03 2.39 2.34
Note: Based on Trulia Analysis of the survey findings

Based on the survey findings, we here at Trulia believe that most people want to do what is best for the environment, but there are clear time, convenience, and cost limitations that are also evident from responses. The degree to which these limitations push people away from a more green way of living is strongly affected by how they agree or disagree that they are environmentally conscious.* If changing minds on the environment is hard, then changing behavior is even harder. But ultimately, the answer to global environmental problems probably won’t come in the form high efficiency washers and TVs. Instead it will come more from collective changes in personal choices and behavior and improved efficiency. As it relates to housing, this involves careful consideration of where you live relative where you work, play and learn, how much space is enough and what you fill that space with.

*Based on custom analysis of survey findings by Trulia

Full Methodology

This survey was conducted online within the United States between March 16th and 18th, 2016 among 2,015 adults (aged 18 and over) by Harris Poll on behalf of Trulia via its Quick Query omnibus product. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, the words “margin of error” are avoided as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in our surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.