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30 Mar, 2012

Survey: Getting Caught Throwing Trash Out Window More Embarrassing Than Cheating on Taxes


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. March 28, 2012 –(BUSINESS WIRE)–Getting caught throwing trash out of the car window is more embarrassing to Americans than getting caught cheating on their taxes, a national survey released today shows.

The national poll, conducted by Shelton Group, found that environmentally unfriendly behaviors – such as littering or driving a gas guzzler – are emerging as a new definition of what’s socially unacceptable in America.

“Being eco-friendly is no longer considered a fringe activity limited to a small group of hard-core activists or early adopters,” said Suzanne Shelton, CEO of Shelton Group. “Thanks to years of green growth, messaging and new products, the idea of sustainability has finally permeated the American conscience. It’s growing more socially acceptable to mainstream America, and any lingering stigma around ‘being green’ is fading.”

The poll, which surveyed 1,105 Americans, asked, “How embarrassed would you be if someone you admire found out that you…” and then offered a series of behaviors. Here are the percentages for those saying they’d be “very embarrassed” if someone they admire found out they:

• Shoplift – 73 percent

• Got a DUI – 65 percent

• Throw trash out of their car window – 59 percent

• Cheat on their taxes – 57 percent

• Smoke cigarettes – 36 percent

• Don’t use their seatbelt – 32 percent

• Drive a vehicle that gets 13 or 14 MPG – 26 percent

• Don’t recycle plastic bottles – 18 percent

• Most often use paper plates and paper towels/napkins instead of reusable products – 18 percent

• Keep their thermometer set to 73 degrees year-round – 18 percent

• Let the water run while brushing their teeth – 17 percent

“Being caught with your thermostat set at 73 degrees isn’t as embarrassing as getting a DUI,” Shelton said. “But research shows that once 20 percent of the population adopts a behavior, it has reached the tipping point and should grow steadily. So our data clearly shows that acting in ways that aren’t eco-friendly should soon be considered embarrassing for greater numbers of people. Being green will be the new normal.”

The survey examined what would encourage Americans to adopt eco-friendly behaviors even more quickly. Here are the percentages of respondents who said the following would be a “major influence” in changing their behavior to help the environment:

• A penalty/fee/fine – 48 percent

• A monetary reward/incentive – 45 percent

• Learning about the dangers/risks – 44 percent

• Learning about the benefits/greater good – 38 percent

• Encouragement from your children, grandchildren, etc. – 30 percent

• Seeing others you admire making the change – 27 percent

• Encouragement from friends – 26 percent

Shelton said she’s encouraged by the latest trends in sustainable behavior. “This signals that sustainability is becoming a true habit for many consumers and a critical part of their self-image,” Shelton said. “It means that more people are holding themselves accountable for their own sustainable actions because not to act in accordance with their values would violate their self-concept.”

To see what’s next, Shelton said, simply look at another large-scale social issue like smoking. After long being a sign of “coolness,” smoking is now viewed as dirty or disgusting, thanks to years of anti-smoking messaging, public bans and social contagion (friends and family who quit smoking urging others to quit, too). Fewer than 20 percent of American adults are now smokers, down from 37 percent in 1970.

“Bad eco-habits will be kicked just like the smoking habit was,” Shelton said. “We don’t expect there to be complete adoption, but we clearly are moving in the right direction.”