Rating One’s Personal Eco-Impact

Do people feel personally responsible for the environment? An Associated Press/NBC Universal poll this month finds respondents equivocal on the matter.

Asked how much “personal responsibility” people have to protect the environment, a majority said “a great deal” (41 percent) or “a lot” (19 percent). Big as those figures are, they fall short of the tally when the poll asked how much responsibility “companies” have to protect the environment: 54 percent said “a great deal” and 17 percent “a lot.”

Just 16 percent of respondents claim to have given “a great deal” of thought during the past year to the impact they had on the environment, with another 17 percent saying they gave this “a lot” of thought. Thirty percent said they gave the matter “a moderate amount” of thought, while 25 percent said they gave it “a little” and 13 percent “none.” (The total exceeds 100 percent due to rounding.) Of those saying they did think at least a little about the matter, 79 percent believe their actions “mostly helped” the environment, vs. 16 percent believing they “mostly hurt.”

Fielded by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media, the polling shows consumers see a hierarchy of personal actions that can aid the planet. Forty-five percent cited “installing energy-saving insulation in your home” as something that would do “a great deal” to help. Nearly as many said the same about “recycling bottles and cans” (44 percent),  “carpooling or taking mass transit” (41 percent), “buying recycled paper products” (40 percent) and “buying energy-efficient house-hold appliances” (39 percent).

The “great deal” vote was lower for “turning down thermostats by two degrees” (35 percent) and “bringing your own shopping bags to stores” or “reusing water bottles” (34 percent each). It was lower still for “washing laundry in cold water” (30 percent) or “buying a hybrid automobile” (29 percent).