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People outside UK ‘more environmentally friendly’

8 March 2017

Colourful recycling bins

Residents of other countries are more environmentally friendly and more likely to believe in climate change than people in the UK, Cardiff University research suggests.

As the University highlights the success of its European and International research, Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh has revealed initial results of the first detailed study of environmental behaviour across culturally diverse countries.

Her research suggests that UK residents rate simple actions, such as turning off lights, to be the most environmentally beneficial, but are reluctant to make more challenging behaviour changes that could have greater impact.

Professor Whitmarsh’s research received €1.5m (£1.3m) from the European Research Council as part of the EU’s FP7 research and innovation funding programme to explore how environmentally friendly behaviour develops.

The biggest EU research and innovation programme ever

She is also part of a separate international study concerning domestic energy efficiency having secured Cardiff University’s 50th successful Horizon 2020 grant, the biggest EU research and innovation programme ever, and successor to FP7.

Professor Whitmarsh, of the School of Psychology, will address an event at Cardiff University on 9 March showcasing the University’s collaborative European and International research activities.

Her environmental behaviour research considered whether starting new green activities such as recycling can lead – or “spill over” – to other positive environmental actions, such as re-using shopping bags.

Sorting at recycling centre

Early results include:

  • Across cultures, people think they are greener than they really are
  • People in the UK appear to be less environmentally concerned and active than people in many other countries
  • While most people believe in climate change, levels of doubt and scepticism in the UK appear to be higher
  • People are not very consistent in their behaviours
  • There are striking similarities - and differences - across countries
  • So far, it appears that “spill over” behaviour is complex and relatively uncommon

Professor Whitmarsh said: “Analysis suggests that the UK sample was particularly likely to think of global warming in relation to the environment, whereas other countries, such as India, identified more local issues such as pollution.

“Despite this, it appears our UK sample is amongst the least likely to believe in or be concerned about climate change...”

Lorraine Whitmarsh

“People in the UK appear to be less environmentally concerned and active than people in many other countries despite strong environmental commitments from the UK Government such as the UK Climate Change Act.”

Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh

Researchers hope that the study will give governments, non-governmental organisations and industry a better understanding of what influences environmental behaviour across cultures, and aid the design of more effective environmental campaigns and policies.

“Most people are willing to make only very small changes to their lifestyle – so we need to find ways of encouraging green behaviour which can match the scale of the climate change challenge,” said Professor Whitmarsh.

An event showcasing the University’s collaborative European and International research success is taking place at the Hadyn Ellis Building, Maindy Road, from 12:00 to 17:00 on 9 March and will be attended by the Welsh Government’s Minister for Skills and Science, Julie James.

Hadyn Ellis Building

“Great news for the University, Wales and our wider economy”

Cardiff University researchers have brought in a total of £24.5m to date from the Horizon 2020 fund including studies on earthquakes, human decision making, gravitational waves, renewable power and cosmic dust.

Cardiff University Vice-Chancellor Professor Colin Riordan said: “It’s a pleasure for me to be able to celebrate our 50th grant success from the EU’s biggest research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020...”

VC Prof. Colin Riordan (Square)

“I would like to congratulate our researchers for their contributions towards increasing scientific knowledge and helping address some of the key challenges facing society.”

Professor Colin Riordan, President and Vice-Chancellor, Cardiff University

“It’s especially important that we continue to apply for EU funds for research while the UK remains a full member of the EU, as well as pursuing all other available opportunities to conduct collaborative research now and in the future.”

The Minister added: “Wales already punches well above its weight when it comes to producing internationally significant research and if we want to continue to increase our already impressive capabilities in this area we must collaborate like never before and seize every opportunity to secure international support and investment.”

Julie James - Square

“That Cardiff has been able to secure such significant amounts of European funding to grow its research base is great news for the University, Wales and our wider economy.”

Julie James AM, Welsh Government’s Minister for Skills and Science
For more information visit the School webpages.