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5 Jun, 2013

New OECD report offers tips on how households can green their behaviour


OECD – Paris, 5 June 2013 – People care for the environment, and a large majority state that they are willing to make compromises to green their lifestyle according to a new OECD survey of 12,000 households. However, the economic crisis has taken its toll, and the survey shows that the environment is slipping down on the list of people’s priorities.

Citing the results of the survey presented in the new OECD publication Greening Household Behaviour, OECD Secretary General Angel Gurría stressed that “the crisis is not an excuse to put the environment on the back-burner. 70% of the households surveyed believe that protecting the environment is a means of stimulating economic growth. These findings reinforce OECD’s efforts in helping countries to identify the policies which ensure that economic and environmental objectives go hand in hand. Our planet is fragile and once broken there will be no way to fix it. We can, and must, continue to make the environment a priority, not only at the level of government but in our decisions as individuals and households”.

Greening Household Behaviour focuses on five areas where households exert pressure on the environment: energy and water use, transport, food consumption and waste generation. The report looks at peoples’ attitude to the environment and ways governments can help them reduce their impact. It highlights important differences across the eleven countries surveyed: Australia, Canada, Chile, France, Israel, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

In terms of environmental impact, climate change and natural resource depletion were most often cited as the most serious concerns in nine of the eleven countries.  However, for Canadians water pollution is most often cited as being a serious concern, and for Israelis it is air pollution that ranks highest. The survey also highlights other important differences. For example, Koreans express the greatest level of dissatisfaction with their air quality, green spaces, noise and litter. Most Dutch respondents, meanwhile, state that they are satisfied with the quality of their local environment.

For governments, encouraging households to adopt more environmentally-friendly behaviour is a major challenge. The use of taxes and charges has to be at the core of government policy in these areas. However, “getting the prices right” may not always suffice.  For example, increasing the cost of driving through fuel taxes may not always be enough to get people off the road unless viable alternatives are available.  In the survey, respondents rated “improved public transport” as the factor which would most encourage them to drive their car less. Governments need to help households make the choices which reduce the environmental impacts associated with their daily life.

In addition, prices can also be complemented with other measures such as targeted support for investments in efficient appliances and easily recognisable labelling. Indeed, across all the countries surveyed, people who recognised energy efficiency labels used 6% less electricity than others. Australians are much more likely to factor the labelling into their decisions when purchasing appliances, while Spaniards and Swedes are much less likely to do so.

Efficiency labels for both cars and buildings are important to the French and Koreans, while Australians and Swedes are less likely to recognise the labels for building energy efficiency. People in Canada and Sweden take energy efficiency into account when changing their residence, while Spaniards and Chileans are less likely to do so.

Greening Household Behaviour also calls attention to many of the simple things that people can do to reduce their environmental “footprint”. For example, while about 60% of the people surveyed said they would pay more for energy coming from renewable sources and most said they make an effort to save energy, less than 40% say that they always turn off appliances with stand-by functions.