Red faces in "green" Norway

Researchers reveal significant gap between public's environmental opinions, actual behaviour

Although more than half the Norwegian population considers itself "environmentally minded," for most consumers it's still a case of "do as I say, not as I do", according to a new report by the National Institute for Consumer Research (SIFO).

Using a mix of statistical data and detailed annual surveys of about a thousand Norwegians' declared attitudes and consumer behaviour between 1989 and 1997, SIFO concludes: "An increasing number state that they have become more willing to accept a reduction in their standard of living in order to protect the environment. However, it doesn't look as if these consumers quite follow up their environmental convictions in practice."

For example, it says: "People are fully aware of the connection between car use and pollution. Despite this, the car is the most common means of transport for access both to work and daily shopping, a trend which has strengthened from 1995 to 1997.... A larger proportion of households now has access to two or more cars. Towards the end of the nineties, half of those asked said they never reduced their use of the car out of environmental considerations."

Only 16% of consumers, SIFO finds, look for environmental information or labelling on the goods they buy, although more than half describe themselves as "environmentally aware" shoppers. Only 18% would consider boycotting goods for environmental reasons. The one area where attitudes and behaviour appear to match one another is an observed increase in - and general approval of - sorting of household waste at source, albeit in response to more stringent regulations.

The report notes that "the environmental movement boomed from the middle of the eighties only to flatten out again in the early nineties". By 1997, "fewer considered environmental problems as very serious than in 1989".

Commenting on his findings in Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet, report author Anders Nyberg said: "We like to say that we think about the environment. Anything else is politically incorrect. But when no one is looking, we suit ourselves. We think more about convenience and economy than we like to admit."

Follow Up:
SIFO, +47 67 59 96 00.

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