It’s not easy being green

This column originally appeared in The Observer magazine/Guardian online

“It’s not easy being green” sang Kermit The Frog, but was he right? How hard do you try to lead an environmentally-friendly lifestyle, and how much do you succeed? First, give yourself a Value score from 1-5, based on which of the following statements best describes you.

1= “I don’t really do anything that is environmentally-friendly”, 2=“I do one or two things that are environmentally-friendly”, 3=“I do quite a few things that are environmentally-friendly”, 4=“I’m environmentally-friendly in most things I do”, 5= “I’m environmentally-friendly in everything I do”

Now, on a scale of 1 (never) to 5 (always), how often do you do each of the following. (a) Switch off lights when nobody is in the room, (b) put on a jumper rather than turning up the heating, (c) avoid buying something because it has too much packaging, (d) take your own shopping bag, (e) use public transport/car share, (f) walk or cycle, (g) buy recycled toilet paper/tissues, (h) avoid taking flights, (i) avoid leaving your TV on standby, (j) turn the tap off when brushing your teeth. Take the average (add up and divide by 10) to calculate your Action score.

Finally, subtract your Value score from your Action score to calculate your Value-Action Gap. The bigger this number, the greater your failure to live up to your green values. Only if this number is zero or lower do you live up to your good intentions. The vast majority of people do not. When these questions were put to almost 100,000 respondents (in the UK Household Longitudinal Study), it turned out that although most of us do the easy things (like turning off taps and TVs), few of us make real sacrifices. For example, even amongst people rating themselves as environmentally-friendly in “most things” or “everything”, half had never avoided buying an over-packaged product, and almost two thirds had never avoided taking a flight. The good news is that people with higher Value scores tended to be more satisfied with their lives. The bad news is that this is probably more to do with  a positive envinromentally-friendly self-image than actual behaviour.

A fully referenced version of this article is available at benambridge.com. Order Are You Smarter Than A Chimpanzee? by Ben Ambridge (Profile Books, £12.99) for £11.04 at bookshop.theguardian.com

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