Trulia study finds Americans say they care about the environment but aren’t willing to pay for it

18 Apr

Lloyd Alter (@lloydalter)

green survey

The extremely dated “It ain’t easy being green” title of this Trulia survey actually misinterprets the data; judging by the questions they asked, it is perfectly easy being green; it just ain’t cheap.

The big real estate site Trulia has done a big poll and discovered that 79 percent of Americans consider themselves to be environmentally conscious. That sounds like a good thing, but when you get right down to it they talk the talk, but few actually walk the walk (well, actually 49 percent do bike or walk), or even drive the drive (only 19 percent). In fact, “Only 26% of Americans say that they actually consider the environment in their daily actions beyond recycling and turning off the lights.”

It’s depressing actually, to find that buying energy efficient appliances is the single biggest environmental choice people make, with 70 percent actually acting on the belief, while 65% are actually making energy efficient home upgrades, with less than half that number realizing that living in a smaller house would make a much bigger difference.

Curiously, what seem like easier, cheaper and higher impact actions like living in a smaller home (16%) and buying renewable electricity from a utility provider (10%) are not nearly as high on the list of ways to be environmentally responsible. Americans seem to agree: Buying energy efficient appliances for the home is among the best ways to be environmentally responsible, more so than living in smaller homes.

Given the polarization of American politics, I was surprised at how close Democrats and Republicans are on these issues, how closely they agree about caring but not doing.

A majority of Democrats and Republicans talk the environmental talk, with 85% of Democrats agreeing that they consider themselves environmentally conscious and Republicans not far behind at 74%.

In the end, the Trulia study concludes that it is all about money.

Yet money is a barrier to being environmentally responsible. While some Americans believe that installing solar panels (28%) and driving a hybrid or electric car (18%) are among the best ways for someone to be environmentally responsible, few actually do so themselves (12% and 12%, respectively). Trulia believes that this is likely a result of the larger initial investments required. Similarly, people are less willing to pay price premiums for energy efficient appliances as the baseline price gets more expensive even if it’s considered the best way to be environmentally responsible. For a $50 appliance or electronic, 76% of environmentally conscious Americans are willing to pay a premium for energy efficiency, followed by 58% of Americans who aren’t environmentally conscious.* But when the baseline prices starts at $2,000, those numbers drop to 53% and 36%, respectively.

That’s what we get for spending all these years trying to convince people that going green will save them money; they can do the math and these days, with energy prices so low, people are not willing to pay the premium. In the end, paying more for green electricity, living in a smaller home, or paying for a more efficient car aren’t going to happen.It’s not harder being green, but it does cost more and entails a bit of inconvenience, and that’s something that the majority of Americans are apparently not interested in.

green questions© Trulia


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