ByMadeleine Somerville

Oct 23, 2015
Eco Programs and Sustainability at Esalen

A recent study commissioned by G&S Communications measured Americans’ awareness of and opinions about corporate social responsibility and environmental stewardship. It’s a surprisingly interesting study to read (available here if you’re interested), and an important one to understand, too.

Business cards recycled into art
For a business to voluntarily make steps toward sustainability, they have to know that it will pay off. Image courtesy of System One Gang.

As much as we’d like businesses to be motivated by morals or an altruistic desire to do good, most businesses are built for profit. Environmental changes can be costly, inconvenient and make a dent in the bottom line. For a business to voluntarily make steps toward sustainability, they have to know that it will pay off.

What’s important is that the study at least seems to indicate that it will.  When making the decision about which brand to purchase, significant percentages of Americans identify environmental issues as being very influential  – wildlife protection (33 percent), deforestation (25 percent), climate change (24 percent), fair trade (21 percent) and the carbon footprint of a business (19 percent) among them.

Not only that, but over two-thirds of Americans told surveyors that businesses could increase their reputation for sustainability through conserving natural resources (72 percent) and supporting environmental or social causes (66 percent).

(Companies can take Hollywood off of speed dial however, only 8% of respondents said that celebrity spokespersons had a positive effect on business reputation.)

These numbers aren’t small potatoes – in a crowded market, any advantage is a good one. If a company stands to curry favor with a quarter of consumers by shifting its environmental practices, or increase its reputation with three-quarters of consumers by conserving natural resources, I’d say that’s a pretty solid investment (case in point – the fanfare Lego got after announcing their plans to develop a plastic-free lego brick. You can’t buy that kind of positive press.)

Of course, the study unearths some alarming results, too. Most shockingly, it states that nearly 40% of Americans doubt their practical understanding of science.

Shall I repeat that?

39% of respondents felt that they lacked solid comprehension of core scientific concepts. 

This is alarming, to say the least. I’ll be the first to admit that most of Biology 30 has long since faded from my mind, replaced by lyrics to terrible Taylor Swift songs, but basic scientific concepts?

recyclingWhy is this so worrisome? Well, the primary reason to adopt Eco-friendly changes on a personal, local, and governmental level is because of the horrific effects of climate change. Climate change, and the evidence proving its existence and the severity of its effects, is based entirely on science, much of which stretches far beyond basic concepts.

Given the controversy surrounding the concept, it’s largely left to individuals to research and make up their own mind, then use these opinions to direct their decisions in daily life, elections, and brand choices. If almost half the American population lacks confidence in their ability to understand the science behind the issue at hand, they aren’t likely to advocate for it, and environmentalism is at risk of dropping off the radar for politicians and businesses alike.

To properly tackle an issue, one must first understand it. What does it mean when we admit that we don’t? How – and where – does the education begin?

Well, I’d say right here is a damn good place to start.

Feature image courtesy of doug ellis

By Madeleine Somerville

Madeleine Somerville is the author of All You Need Is Less: An Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity. She is a writer, wannabe hippie and lover of soft cheeses. She lives in Edmonton, Canada, with her daughter. You can also find Madeleine at her blog, Sweet Madeleine.