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Cost and convenience hinder sustainable living, baby boomers greener than Gen Z: OCBC Climate Index

·4-min read

Baby boomers scored the best among the survey’s age groups. Gen Zs scored the lowest in three of the survey’s four categories.

The majority of Singaporeans are still not embracing sustainability, says OCBC Bank, and the few who do are motivated by personal practical benefits and not for the environment.

Some reasons include better health, saving money and personal comfort, says the bank at the release of its second OCBC Climate Index survey, which drew responses from more than 2,100 Singaporeans.

According to the survey, residents cited cost (44%) and inconvenience (36%) as obstacles to living a sustainable life.

With rising prices in mind, more Singaporeans are choosing to walk, cycle or take public transport rather than travel by car (71% in 2022, 68% in 2021), choose second-hand furniture instead of buying new items (77% vs 71%), participate in “urban farming” initiatives (42% vs 39%) and buy second-hand clothing (77% vs 71%).

Notably, baby boomers — or respondents aged 58 to 65 — scored the best among the survey’s age groups. According to OCBC, they are less busy and can afford the time to walk, cycle or take public transport.

Similar to other generations, however, baby boomers’ main motivations to live sustainably are for better health (51%), for a cleaner and greener environment (45%) and to save money (39%).

Conversely, the youngest generation surveyed — Gen Zs aged 18 to 25 — scored the lowest in three of the survey’s four categories. Their score was buoyed by lower air travel and public transport ridership, as they are less likely to drive.

According to the survey, younger Singaporeans are motivated most by better health (56%), while barriers to adoption are cost (53%) and inconvenience (53%).

More Singaporeans want to create a more sustainable world but find it difficult to make the real change when it is expensive or not convenient, says OCBC’s Koh Ching Ching, head of group brand and communications. “Climate actions must therefore be deliberate with sacrifices to be made.”

Flying, eating and shopping more

The index outlines four lifestyle themes that represent urban living, weighted based on how they impact an individual’s carbon footprint — transport (45%), home (25%), food (15%) and goods (15%).

On transport, there was a rise of 3% from 2021 in those choosing public transport or travelling by foot or bicycle, over driving. But flights have picked up to all parts of the world as borders have reopened — 55% of respondents have travelled by air compared to 44% last year. This has negated the overall improvements Singaporeans have made.

At home, more Singaporeans have switched on their air conditioners; 21% are using air conditioners as their main mode of cooling their homes, as opposed to 17% in 2021. However, the majority of Singaporeans surveyed (76%) set their temperatures to the recommended 24 degrees Celsius or higher. Some 42% of them also keep the number of hours of use to three to six hours, unchanged from 2021.

Those who consume red meat are doing so more frequently, with 78% of respondents eating red meat once a week or more, as opposed to 72% in 2021. Some 35% of red meat eaters are aware that their choice of food has an impact on the environment. Yet, they maintain their love for red meat and have no plans to give this up, says OCBC.

As Covid-19 restrictions relaxed, consumerism rose. A total of 57% of respondents bought new, non-essential items more frequently than once a month — a 10% increase from last year.

Overall score unchanged from last year

Developed in partnership with online publication Eco-Business, the index is a measurement of the current levels of environmental sustainability awareness and climate action among Singaporeans.

The index is derived from a survey sent to a nationally representative demographic sample of Singaporeans. From June 4 to 16 this year, 2,169 Singaporeans aged between 18 and 65 were surveyed online on 106 questions.

The index is based on three pillars — knowledge of environmental issues (“Awareness”), how much and how often one adopts green practices (“Adoption”), and how often one encourages others to adopt green practices (“Advocacy”).

The OCBC Climate Index national average was 6.7, unchanged from last year — with Singaporeans scoring an average of 8.1 in the “Awareness” pillar, 6.5 in “Adoption” and 5.6 in “Advocacy”.

About 52% of respondents had scores of between 6 and 7.9. “This means that the average Singaporean is highly aware of environmental issues, adopts many green practices some of the time and advocates some of these issues and practices to their families and friends,” says OCBC.

While the OCBC Climate Index findings might be discouraging at first glance, there are bright spots in the results that indicate improvements, such as in transport choice or in embracing re-commerce, says Jessica Cheam, founder and managing director of Eco-Business.

“Mainstreaming sustainability-driven consumer behaviour takes time, and many factors such as cost, convenience and infrastructure heavily impact personal decisions,” says Cheam. “The findings from the Climate Index suggest that policymakers, businesses and civic society have to work harder at understanding basic human behaviour and how to improve sustainability outcomes by providing the right environment for consumers to make the right choices.”

Infographics: OCBC, Eco-Business

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