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Everyday Environmentalist

Do Americans Know How to Go Green?

More than 90 percent of Americans are recycling — but fewer than 5 percent have taken recommended green actions such as driving less or reducing their utility use, according to a new Harris Poll on green living.

The poll — for which The Nature Conservancy provided input and advice — found that 53 percent of those surveyed have taken steps to green their lives.

But it also found a substantial lack of knowledge about how to go green — and skepticism about whether greening one's life makes a difference to the environment:

  • 34 percent of those surveyed said they hadn’t changed their lifestyle because they “did not know what to do.”
  • 29 percent of respondents believe that greening their lifestyle won’t make any significant difference on the environment.

“This poll shows that green living is certainly at the forefront of our minds,” says Stephanie Meeks, the Conservancy's acting president and CEO.

“Yet people are getting lost in the maze of information on how to lessen our environmental impact. The bottom line is that even the smallest lifestyle change can have significant impact in the long run.”

Recycling and Paying Bills Online, But Not Changing Light Bulbs

While recycling is widespread in the United States and 73 percent of those polled are paying their bills online to save paper, other often-recommended ways to green your life are going largely ignored:

  • 5 percent are driving less by combining errands, walking more, etc.
  • 4 percent have reduced their utility use.
  • 3 percent have purchased hybrid cars.
  • 3 percent have changed out incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescent ones.

Yet if every American home switched out just one incandescent light bulb for a compact fluorescent one, the United States would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for an entire year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy.

“Making small changes to help save the planet can help your pocketbook as well,” adds Meeks. “In the case of compact fluorescent light bulbs, you’re paying more on the front end, but the cost savings in the long run will beat out the incandescent bulbs, hands down.”

Other poll results:

  • 49 percent are trying to buy locally-produced food and/or goods.
  • 47 percent are buying green household products.
  • 39 percent are bringing their own reusable bags to stores instead of using paper or plastic.
  • 16 percent are carpooling.
Optimism on Environmental Issues

The poll also found noticeable optimism on environmental issues among the American public. Seventy-two percent of the poll’s 2,605 respondents believe their personal actions are significant to the health of the environment.

And although only 42 percent of U.S. adults were initially familiar with the phrase “environmental sustainability,” two-thirds believe that it is possible to live in an environmentally sustainable way.

The phrase "environmental sustainability" was more familiar to younger poll respondents than older ones. More than 45 percent of those age 18-43 understood the term's meaning, while only 30 percent of those aged 63 and older knew the term.

The Nature Conservancy Helps You Go Green

To help cut through all the noise, The Nature Conservancy offers easy ways to make science-based green changes in your life:

We’re Accountable

The Nature Conservancy makes careful use of your support.

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