Consumers recognise their role in reducing their climate impact but need more support in order to make the switch to more expensive green technologies such as electric vehicles and heat pumps, Which? research has found.
The consumer champion is concerned that the government weakening its green targets risks endangering the business investment that consumers need to play their part in tackling climate change.
Which?’s research revealed that a majority of people want to do their bit to help combat climate change, with three in four (78%) UK adults expressing concern about it and four in five (82%) recognising their role in reducing their own impact.
The survey found that many people are already taking some steps to live more sustainably where it is within their power and affordable. For instance, three in 10 (28%) holidaymakers have chosen to go on holiday more locally to avoid or lower the amount of flying.
However, lack of awareness and reliable infrastructure as well as affordability are currently significant barriers preventing consumers from taking even bigger steps to be more sustainable, such as investing in electric vehicles and heat pumps.
Which? found that people are growing increasingly unwilling to consider buying an EV due to a range of barriers. Over the past two years, the number of people who would not consider one has risen 14 per cent points, from one in five (20%) in 2021 to one in three (34%) in 2023.
The top three barriers people reported preventing them from investing in an EV are cost (63%), availability of public charge points (51%), and the cost of installing a charge point at home (50%).
Which?’s survey of 2,067 people also uncovered issues with the take-up of low-carbon systems, such as heat pumps, which can significantly reduce carbon emissions.
A major barrier is lack of awareness, with around four in 10 (44%) homeowners not knowing what a heat pump is. However, when Which? asked homeowners who have heard of them and know what they are about what is preventing them from installing a heat pump, two-thirds (67%) said affordability was the main barrier. Around four in 10 (44%) are not convinced the technology is good enough and a quarter (23%) felt a heat pump was inappropriate for their property.
In a positive development, last week the government announced that grants to help families replace boilers with heat pumps will increase to £7,500. Previously it was a £5,000 grant for an air-source heat pump and £6,000 for a ground-source heat pump.
Which?’s research found that consumers are adopting other sustainable behaviours and energy-saving behaviours at home – such as switching off lights when they are not needed (85%) and switching off appliances at the mains (56%).
Since 2022 there has been a five percentage point increase in people choosing greener modes of travel – public transport, walking and cycling – with 19 per cent choosing alternative travel in 2022 rising to 24 percent in 2023. Meanwhile, more than four in 10 (44%) said they always or often cut down on their food waste by both planning what food they buy and composting or recycling their leftovers.
Which? categorised consumers based on the actions they are or are not taking to be environmentally friendly and overall found that around half (51%) of people are on the journey towards living greener lives, while around a fifth (20%) are already doing so, but three in 10 (29%) are not currently making any significant changes to their behaviour.
Given most consumers are committed to being more sustainable, but face significant barriers which are causing the slow uptake of certain technologies, the government needs to work with industry and consumer groups to make it easier for consumers to make sustainable choices and feel confident investing in green technologies. They must continue working to put measures in place so that infrastructure, such as the electric vehicle charging network, is robust and affordable. Where necessary, they should also provide support for households on low incomes.
These measures will support those ready to make the change now, and build confidence among those who might be willing to consider changes in the future as their financial situation improves or as prices fall.
Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy, said:
“It’s clear that consumers want to play their part in helping tackle climate change, but our research has found that lack of awareness, reliable information and the cost of some green technologies is currently holding them back from leading more sustainable lives.
“It’s vitally important that the government weakening its net zero pledges does not prevent it from working in earnest with businesses to develop and support sustainable solutions. Consumers also need lower prices, more choice and confidence in making the switch to green alternatives – whether that’s the car they drive or how they heat their home and improve its insulation.”
Notes to editors:
- A copy of the full Which? sustainability report is available on request and will be going live at the following link when the embargo lifts at 00:01 Tuesday 26th September: https://www.which.co.uk/policy-and-insight/article/consumer-attitudes-behaviours-and-barriers-towards-sustainability-a40dZ1t0smax
- In June 2023, a survey of 2,067 UK adults was conducted by Yonder Consulting on behalf of Which?.
- The Boiler Upgrade Scheme provides a £5000 grant for an air-source heat pump and £6000 for a ground-source heat pump – this is set to rise to £7500 following the government announcement last week.
- Which? recently published a report on insulation awareness, revealing worryingly few homeowners are making insulation improvements to their homes.
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