NEW YORK, NY (26 July 2023)—Although more than two-thirds of people view climate change as an emergency, many are struggling to incorporate sustainability into their personal, professional, and political actions, according to Deloitte’s new study “Economic uncertainty puts pressure on sustainable behavior change,” released this week.
Notably, those who self-identify as higher income are more likely to engage in sustainable activities such as buying sustainable goods, looking for a job with a more sustainable employer, and communicating with government officials about climate change, among other actions.
Deloitte’s new report synthesized responses to several surveys conducted between September 2021 and March 2023 and measured them against three main pillars: personal choices, workplace concerns, and citizen actions. The analysis in full represents the views of more than 20,000 people in more than 20 countries.
“Our research highlights the troubling disconnect between concern and action on climate change for individuals, and the root causes of this gap,” says Leon Pieters, Global Consumer Industry leader, Deloitte Global. “Most people agree climate change is a critical issue and want to take steps to address it, but too many are unable to do so amid rising costs, recession fears, geopolitical tensions, the long-term ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, and more.”
Those who self-identify as middle or lower income affirm this sentiment, as less than half (44% middle income; 42% lower income) of the individuals in these groups say they always or often choose sustainable products. For lower-income individuals specifically, more than half (53%) of those who did not make a sustainable purchase in the last month cited cost as the main barrier. In contrast, 59% of higher-income respondents say they always or often choose sustainable products, showing cost is a barrier when it comes to sustainable purchases.
This is further exemplified by investments in renewable energy, as slightly more than one in 10 lower- and middle-income individuals always or whenever possible power their home with renewable electricity compared to roughly one-in-four among higher-income respondents. Once again, cost remains a barrier to implementing such technology—not to mention other financial barriers, including home ownership, to switching to renewables for households.
These financial concerns extend to the workplace as well, given that less than 20% of lower- and middle-income individuals say they’ve considered switching jobs to work for a more sustainable organization compared to nearly half of higher-income respondents (46%). Yet, respondents assert they still care deeply about the environment, with over three-quarters (77%) of lower-income individuals arguing their employer isn’t doing enough to address climate change.
Similarly, in the civic space, financial circumstances may be preventing some individuals who see themselves as lower or middle income from donating to environmental organizations. Roughly one-quarter (24%) of higher-income respondents have donated to an environmental organization in the last year, compared to around one in 10 lower- and middle-income respondents.
“This is indicative of a broader, troubling trend regarding engagement, as many who see themselves as lower income likely cannot afford to spend time contacting public officials or participating in public demonstrations demanding climate action,” says Pieters. According to the report, nearly two-thirds (65%) of lower-income individuals have never attended a climate demonstration while one-quarter have never contacted a public official about climate issues.
Yet, middle- and higher-income individuals overall are still less willing than lower-income individuals to make changes to certain higher-emitting behaviors, despite having more resources to do so and despite engaging in other sustainable behaviors. For example, higher- and middle-income individuals are less likely to report: avoiding optional or leisure flights; opting for alternative modes of travel such as public transit or cycling; reducing meat consumption; and limiting package deliveries compared to those with lower incomes. While economic necessity drives some individuals’ decisions to make these lifestyle choices, most can implement them for the betterment of the planet, regardless of that individual's economic status.
What’s more, there is still an opportunity for middle- and higher-income individuals to adjust and help shift societal norms regarding low-carbon lifestyle choices while reducing their portion of carbon emissions.
“It’s essential for global leaders to understand how and why people are taking climate action personally, at work, and in their communities, and why some are not able to take action to the extent they would like,” says Jennifer Steinmann, Global Sustainability & Climate practice leader, Deloitte Global. “Ultimately, the aggregated impact of individual decisions to live a more sustainable life does influence the efforts of companies and governments and can accelerate the broader, systemic action required to meet the ambition of the global emissions reduction goals set forth in the Paris Agreement.”
For more information and to view the full findings of Deloitte’s study “Economic uncertainty puts pressure on sustainable behavior change,” visit: https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/environmental-social-governance/sustainable-consumer-behaviors.html