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Thursday, 25 July 2013

Eurobarometer Findings Are Shaky At Best

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People who answer surveys lie.  It’s due to something called the Social Desirability Bias which means that they present the best version of themselves, especially on morally-charged issues like drinking, sex or the environment.

The July 2013 Eurobarometer ‘Attitudes of Europeans Towards Building The Single Market For Green Products’ seems to have fallen foul of the Social Desirability Bias and as such, I believe the results should be taken with a large pinch of salt. 

If we are to believe the respondents, 80% said they buy environmentally-friendly products, with 26% buying them ‘often’ and 54% buying them ‘sometimes’.  More than half (55%) of the respondents believe green products are ‘good value’ and 74% say they are ‘as effective as regular products’.

My first reaction to these statistics is absolute incredulity.  When I look around my international, educated and environmentally-aware friends and family, I don’t see these statistics reflected.

There are plenty of contradictions in the Eurobarometer.  For example, while 89% of people believe buying environmentally-friendly products can make a difference to the environment, in a later question only 66% said they were confident that these products will cause less environmental damage.

Peer pressure is clearly involved as 95% said that buying environmentally-friendly products is ‘the right thing to do’, compared to only 26% who admit to buying them often.  And yet 37% of respondents (48% in Bulgaria) believe concerns about the environment are exaggerated.

Germany, Romania and the Netherlands also have their fair share of sceptics as only 44%, 46% and 47% respectively believe products labelled as environmentally-friendly are less harmful to the environment.  These less positive results are probably more in line with real public opinion.

The survey did not define ‘environmentally-friendly products’ so we cannot be sure how respondents interpreted the questions.  Perhaps they recently bought some firewood or a bag of carrots and thought that these count as environmentally-friendly.

Everyone knows that surveys are imperfect and yet they do serve a purpose, as a benchmark if nothing else.  I am concerned that if policymakers take these statistics at face value, nothing is ever going to change for the better.  The survey claims that 55% of respondents know about the environmental impact of the products they buy and yet there is little transparency today.  As consumers, we need to be demanding more transparency. 

If the Commission believes, based on a flawed survey, that all is well in the world of so-called green products, they will fail to take the necessary steps to support the decarbonisation and detoxification of our economy.

Blog by Kathryn Sheridan

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