Which? reveals most common ways consumers are reducing environmental harm

The vast majority of consumers are taking steps to reduce their environmental impact, but many can struggle to take action in the areas that cause the greatest harm, a Which? study has found, reinforcing the need for consumers to be supported in making more sustainable choices.

The consumer champion surveyed more than 3,500 members of the public asking them which actions, from a list of 10, they do regularly that reduce their impact on the environment, such as limiting their use of single-use plastic. It found around nine in 10 (87%) take at least one action to explicitly minimize their environmental impact.

Which? found the most common measure consumers take is recycling, with 93 per cent of people regularly recycling household waste such as paper, glass and plastic, and four in five (80%) do it explicitly for sustainability reasons.

Around eight in 10 (81%) said they regularly use home products in energy-efficient ways, for example washing clothes on eco mode or at a lower temperature, with just over half (53%) doing this for sustainability reasons.

Three-quarters said they frequently avoid single-use plastic and non-recyclable products (76%) and switch off appliances at the wall rather than leaving them on standby (74%).

While reducing plastic waste and energy consumption will have a positive impact on the environment, the types of food consumers eat, the way they choose to get around and the types of vehicles they use cause the greatest harm to the environment. However, a lower proportion of people are taking actions that reduce their impact in these areas.

Only around two in five (42%) told Which? they regularly cut down or avoid consuming meat and dairy products, with just one in five (22%) doing this for reasons to do with sustainability. Almost half (46%) said they opt for public transport, walking or cycling, with one in five (22%) indicating they were motivated by sustainability reasons.

This suggests there are barriers preventing more people from adopting sustainable forms of transport and types of food, and perhaps more support is needed to encourage consumers to make these lifestyle changes.

Other common measures consumers take to lower their environmental impact include repairing rather than replacing items (72%) and borrowing or buying second-hand rather than buying new products (52%).

Which? also found more than half (55%) are regularly taking at least four measures to reduce their impact on the environment, while a third (32%) are doing six or more. Consumers aged under 55 more commonly report doing more to support the environment, with over a third regularly doing six or more actions to help the environment, compared to a quarter aged 55 and above.

These findings come as Which? launches a brand new podcast called “Which? Investigates” to mark World Environment Day, exploring consumer-related sustainability issues.

Hosted by science journalist & producer Greg Foot, the 8-episode first season of ‘Which? Investigates’ focuses on putting claims of sustainability under the spotlight. From plant-based food to plastic-free products and electric cars, Greg will find out what genuinely reduces our environmental footprint, and what’s simply green-washing, to give consumers the confidence to make better choices for themselves and the environment.

Sue Davies, Head of Consumer Rights and Food Policy at Which?, said:

“Consumers have become increasingly aware of their carbon footprint, and while our research shows many people are doing what they can to support the environment, far fewer people are taking action in areas that cause the greatest harm to the environment.

“Which? is committed to helping consumers to adopt more sustainable behaviour and will continue to work with policymakers and businesses to ensure people get the right amount of support to make choices that are less harmful to the environment.”

Notes to editor:

Please see the full table of results below:

Which? surveyed 3,619 UK adults between 30th April and 2nd May 2021. Fieldwork was carried out online by Yonder and data has been weighted to be representative of the UK population (aged 18+).

Information on how consumer food and travel choices contribute to higher levels of environmental harm is drawn from both international and UK-based studies and meta-analyses, including those of the UK government’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC). Link here: https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/reducing-uk-emissions-2020-progress-report-to-parliament/

On Friday 4th June, Which? is launching a new podcast titled “Which? Investigates” hosted by science journalist & producer Greg Foot. The 8-episode first season will focus on consumer-related sustainability issues such as supermarket packaging, travel and digital obsolescence, to help consumers make more sustainable choices that can reduce harm to the environment. Listen to a preview here (first episode available 04.06): https://play.acast.com/s/which-investigates

As part of Which?’s commitment to giving consumers who want to reduce their environmental impact greater confidence to make better choices, it has introduced a new “Eco Buy” endorsement scheme that recognises products with the least environmental impact. The new endorsement and testing approach evaluates the repairability, longevity and energy efficiency of products. Find out more here: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/11/new-which-eco-buy-recommendation-reveals-most-sustainable-appliances/

About Which?

Which? is the UK’s consumer champion, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone. Our research gets to the heart of consumer issues, our advice is impartial, and our rigorous product tests lead to expert recommendations. We’re the independent consumer voice that influences politicians and lawmakers, investigates, holds businesses to account and makes change happen. As an organisation we’re not for profit and all for making consumers more powerful.

The information in this press release is for editorial use by journalists and media outlets only. Any business seeking to reproduce information in this release should contact the Which? Endorsement Scheme team at endorsementscheme@which.co.uk.

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