Poll: Consumers Care Less About the Environment Now. Happy Earth Day!

  • Share
  • Read Later
Taxi / Getty Images

So much for saving the planet. A recent survey reveals that over the past few years, Americans have become less likely to say they care a great deal about the current and future state of the environment. Similarly, we’re also less likely today to purchase all-natural or organic products, bother trying to use less water, and reuse things we already own—not when we can buy new stuff and toss the old items in the trash.

The results of a new Harris Poll read like a smack in the face to Mother Nature. A similar “green attitude” poll has been conducted annually since 2009, and over the years our eco-sensitivity has seemed to subside.

(MORE: Just in Time for Earth Day: Introducing the $60 Light Bulb)

In 2012, 27% of Americans describe themselves as “environmentally-conscious,” and 31% say they “care a great deal about the current state, and future, of the environment.” These percentages both represent a fall-off from 2009, when the numbers were 30% and 36%, respectively. In 2009, 43% of Americans said they were concerned about the planet they’re leaving behind for future generations. Today, though, fewer people are bothered by the idea that earth is going to hell in a handbasket: Just 34% are worried about the planet after they’re buried and gone.

Everyday consumer behavior seems to have grown increasingly environmentally-unfriendly as well, with Americans now saying that they’re less likely to:

  • Reuse things they have instead of throwing them away or buying new items (65% 2009 vs. 61% 2012);
  • Make an effort to use less water (60% 2009 vs. 57% 2010 and 2012);
  • Buy food in bulk (33% 2009 vs. 30% 2012);
  • Purchase all-natural products (18% 2009 vs. 16% 2012); and,
  • Purchase organic products (17% 2009 vs. 15% 2010 and 2012).

This is what Americans are saying they’re doing—which is different, of course, from what they have actually been doing. It could be that people were exaggerating how eco-sensitive they were in 2009, and they’re just more honest now, after memories of watching “An Inconvenient Truth” have faded.

(MORE: Here’s How Your Identity Will Be Stolen: Top 10 Scams)

This isn’t to say that people aren’t taking steps that help minimize impact on the environment. It’s just that the individual is more likely to help Mother Nature when the efforts also help himself. In another Earth Day-related survey, conducted on the behalf of Coupon Cabin, 75% of those polled say that they have saved money by implementing green practices—turning off lights when leaving a room, reusing plastic water bottles, setting programmable thermostats to heat and cool homes efficiently and waste less energy, using Energy Star appliances, and on and on.

Such practices may be done more in self-interest than in the pure interest of the planet, but Mother Nature probably doesn’t care. She’ll take it.

(MORE: Imagine No Electricity Bills: The Rise of ‘Net-Zero’ Homes)

If the average citizen doesn’t particularly care about the environment and Earth Day, who does? Well, there are plenty of retailers that care about Earth Day—at least as a marketing opportunity, that is. Check out the roster of Earth Day-related freebies and discounts rounded up by RetailMeNot and dealnews.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.