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July 2013

Sustainability survey - Americans feel guilty about wasting food

NWREporter July 2013

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Of all the things "un-green" that Americans could feel guilty about - not recycling, forgetting to bring reusable bags to the store, leaving the lights on when leaving a room - they feel the most guilt about wasting food, according to recent survey.  At the other end of the spectrum, Americans feel very little guilt about using chemical fertilizers and being careless about watering their lawns.

Considering the average household tosses about 470 pounds of food every year, making it the largest component in the nation's landfills, "We have plenty to feel guilty about," remarked Suzanne Shelton, founder and CEO of Shelton Group, which conducted the nationwide "Eco Pulseā„¢" survey.

Citing government studies, Shelton said Americans waste about 27 percent of food available for consumption, costing the average family of four about $600 annually. She noted food waste in the U.S. has grown 50 percent since 1974, accounting for more than a quarter of total freshwater use and roughly 300 million barrels of oil a year.

"We all have the best of intentions," Shelton said. "We fill our grocery baskets with healthy meats, fruits and fresh vegetables, with big plans for a week's worth of home-cooked meals. Then, we get swamped at work, or have to get our kids to various activities and we find ourselves picking up a pizza on the way home. By the end of the week, we're throwing out the spoiled food from our refrigerators."

Shelton believes the finding about food waste signals a new avenue for engaging the public in sustainability efforts. There clearly is an opportunity to help people find ways to minimize food waste, she stated. "All of us could be better at shopping, cooking and using up leftovers," Shelton said. "Keeping food from going to waste will benefit our wallets as well as the environment. And we'll all feel a lot less guilty."

The annual survey asked respondents: "Which (if any) of these things do you feel guilty about?"

Americans' top answers
Wasting food 39%
Leaving the lights on when I leave a room 27%
Wasting water 27%
Not unplugging chargers/electronics when not in use 22%
Not recycling things 21%
Forgetting to bring reusable bags to the store 20%
Letting the water run while brushing teeth, washing dishes, etc 20%
Americans' bottom answers on the "guilt scale"
Running the dishwasher or clothes washer when it isn't completely full 10%
Not making energy-efficient home improvements 10%
Washing clothes or dishes on the hottest setting 9%
Not buying CFLs or LEDs 9%
Not sticking to an energy-efficient thermostat setting 7%
Using chemical lawn or plant fertilizers 6%
Not being careful about how long/when I water the grass 6%

Shelton Group's fifth annual Eco Pulse survey polled 1,013 Americans and had a margin of error of 3.09 percent.

Among other important consumer trends researchers found were:

  • Thirty percent of respondents said a company's Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities influenced their green purchase decisions somewhat or very much. In fact, local CSR activities that benefit the consumers' communities, such as stocking a community food pantry, were the strongest type of initiative tested. Consumers said those activities were more believable and could actually motivate them to choose one product over another.
  • An increasing number of Americans say they know a product is green because it's made by a company with a strong environmental reputation. That number has grown from 23 percent in 2010 to 31 percent this year.
  • Asked, "How truthful do you think most companies are when making green claims?" 71 percent of respondents said that companies are often or always truthful, while only 29 percent said they are rarely or never truthful. Analysts concluded this shows that most consumers are at least willing to listen to companies' green claims - and many will give them the benefit of the doubt.

About Shelton Group
Shelton Group studies Americans on an ongoing basis and tracks their shifting attitudes and motivations around all things green. The marketing communications firm uses those insights to help some companies define and leverage their sustainability stories to gain a market
advantage.