Companies must lead climate change fight: consumers

OSLO (Reuters) - Most consumers want companies to do more to protect the environment and reckon that firms should play a leading role in fighting global warming, a worldwide survey showed Tuesday.

A woman holds a basket with plastic plates and glasses in a supermarket in Nice, southeastern France, September 18, 2008. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

The poll, of 28,000 Internet users in 51 nations by The Nielsen Company, showed that corporate commitment to green ethics is playing “an increasingly influential role in consumers’ purchasing behavior,” Nielsen said.

The survey showed that 51 percent of respondents considered it “very important” for firms to improve the environment and another 36 “somewhat important.” Nielsen said it was the first worldwide poll of company ethics and corporate responsibility.

“A ‘global conscience’ is one of the biggest trends to have emerged in the last decade,” said Amilcar Perez, a vice president of the Nielsen Company in Latin America. The survey was carried out in May, before current financial turmoil.

It was unclear whether economic slowdown would undermine environmental concerns, Timmons Roberts, a professor of Sociology at the College of William and Mary in Virginia involved in the poll, told Reuters.

“It’s hard to tell. For some consumers who buy fair trade coffee, for instance, it may now part of their budget,” he said.


Asked how they would like to help social and environmental causes, 68 percent favored buying greener goods with just 13 percent preferring to donate cash. It did not probe how far respondents might be willing to spend extra on greener goods.

“The results show that environmental issues are gaining traction,” said Max Boycoff, a researcher at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute also involved in the survey.

“If organizations are looking to gain a foothold and reach out beyond the self-identified environmentalist, consumer behavior could be a way forward,” he told Reuters.

Asked by Nielsen to name the biggest contributions society can make to combating climate change, 40 percent said governments should restrict companies’ emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants.

In second place, 38 percent favored government-led research into low-emissions cars, houses and renewable energy. And 37 percent said people should recycle more waste. Respondents were allowed to pick more than one answer.

More than 190 governments have agreed to work out a new global warming treaty by the end of 2009 to curb emissions of greenhouse gases after warnings by the U.N. Climate Panel of ever more heatwaves, droughts, floods and rising seas.

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Editing by Louise Ireland