Research

Two thirds of UK adults feel green guilt

Woman collecting litter on beach
  • One in eight UK adults exaggerate green behaviours
  • More than half of UK adults have witnessed green “virtue signalling”
  • But green actions have increased after falling during the pandemic
  • Under-25s lag behind other age groups in many green behaviours

Around two thirds (64%) of UK adults feel guilty for carrying out environmentally-unfriendly actions, according to a new study released today by Aviva.

The insurer’s latest How We Live report (Spring 2022) finds people feel uncomfortable about a range of behaviours including buying plastic bags, not recycling and eating meat or dairy foods. 

Guilt-provoking behaviour

Percentage of UK adults feeling guilty about doing this

Buying / accepting a plastic carrier bag in a store

28%

Buying a drink / food in a single-use plastic bottle / container

25%

Putting recyclable items in a non-recycling bin

25%

Putting the heating on

22%

Using the car for a short journey

22%

Using a tumble drier

18%

Eating meat / fish

14%

Driving a non-electric vehicle

14%

Travelling on an aeroplane

12%

Eating dairy / eggs

11%

Buying non-recycled toilet roll

10%

Controversially, one in eight UK adults (12%) also admit they have exaggerated their eco-friendly actions to others, while a further 23% are tempted to do the same.

The notion of “green guilt” is compounded by what people see as the actions of others. More than half (54%) of respondents say they have encountered others showing off about their environmentally-conscious actions, either in person or - more frequently - on social media.

These behaviours are more common among younger age groups, with four fifths of under-35s saying they have witnessed green “virtue signalling”.

Green behaviours bounce back from pandemic

However, the latest How We Live study suggests people may be being hard on themselves, as more consumers take green steps forward.

The report series has tracked a number of consumer actions since December 2019. According to latest data, most of these green behaviours are almost back to pre-pandemic levels, having dipped during 2021, as outlined in the table below.

Green behaviour

Percentage of UK adults doing Dec ‘19

Percentage of UK adults doing Feb ‘21

Percentage of UK adults doing Feb ‘22

Recycling through local bin collections

73%

51%

71%

Giving unwanted items to charity shops

67%

43%

63%

Avoiding single-use plastic items

61%

36%

46%

Turning down the thermostat at home

59%

27%

68%

Eating local / seasonal vegetables and fruit to reduce food miles

37%

25%

33%

Reducing the amount of meat eaten in your household

32%

21%

30%

Buying second-hand items / upcycling

40%

20%

36%

Reducing how often you travel by plane

22%

17%

25%

Becoming vegan

5%

4%

6%

The proportion of people who are influenced by the “green” credentials of a brand has also increased during this period by 10 percentage points. In December 2019, 68% of UK adults said they were influenced by the extent to which an organisation is climate-aware, whereas this proportion now stands at 78%.

Under-25s lag behind on everyday green actions

However, the report suggests there is room for improvement, particularly among under-25s. As noted in previous How We Live studies, as a general rule, the older people are, the more likely they are to adopt “green” behaviours.

According to this latest data, people aged 16-24 are half as likely to carry out certain eco-friendly actions, compared to the national average - lower than seen in this report series previously.

Around a third (34%) of under-25s say they recycle through bin collections, compared to the national average of 71% and 90% of people aged 75+. Just 23% of under-25s say they limit water consumption in their homes against 43% of all UK residents, while 30% of 16-24s give unwanted items to charity shops, contrasting with a national average of 63%.

Correspondingly, the number of under-25s who say they do not care or worry about climate change is double the national average, at 6% compared to 3% across all age groups.

The key exception to this trend relates to veganism which is significantly more widespread among the UK’s under-25s. One person in 10 in this age group (10%), chooses a plant-based diet, compared to 6% across all respondents.

Kelly Whittington, Property Claims Director, Aviva says: “Green issues are high on people’s agendas and it’s encouraging that most people are taking steps to reduce their impact on the planet. Individuals are feeling guilty about “non-green” actions and are eager to share their efforts on social media. This suggests we may see even more positive progress in the future.

“Collectively, there is still much work to be done, but it’s encouraging to see that as a nation, we want to do more.”

Our How we live report

The fourth edition of Aviva's How we live report shines a light on the environmental attitudes and aspirations of people across the UK. 

-ENDS-

Sources

Statistics are taken from Aviva’s latest How We Live report which summarises the views of 4,003 UK adults aged 16 and above, interviewed by Censuswide research in February 2022. 

Media Enquiries

Sarah Poulter

UK External Communications

Notes to editors:

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