Who cares if overindulgence is not green?

December 24th, 2010 by International Journal of Sustainable Development

At this time of year, indulgence is the buzzword.  There are luxury goods to buy, roaring fires to relax by, sunnier climes to jet off to, and distant friends and family to visit.

So many of us overindulge because of a lack of awareness, a lack of will, a lack of responsibility, and peer pressure (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

But how does this festive spirit align with environmental obligations and our attitudes to going green?

More to the point indulgence isn’t just for Christmas, it occurs all year long.  Even during a severe economic downturn many people consider it a right to luxuriate in consumer goods, drive needlessly, turn up the thermostat in winter, or the air-conditioning in summer, and forego their green credentials time and time again.

Erling Holden of Sogn and Fjordane University College, in Sogndal, and Kristin Linnerud of the Cicero Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research, in Oslo, Norway, have quantified this dichotomy between environmental attitudes and energy indulgence in the home in their paper “Environmental Attitudes and Household Consumption: An ambiguous Relationship.”

Writing in the International Journal of Sustainable Development, the team has carried out surveys to find a statistical correlation between factors that influence our ability to behave in an environmentally friendly way and the mechanisms of household consumption that contradict those attitudes.

They have revealed three paradoxical aspects of this problem.

First, they discovered that a desire to project an environmentally friendly image has little influence on energy use in the home or on transport.

Second, a sense of powerlessness prevents people from translating positive environmental attitudes into low energy use in the home and for everyday transport.

Third, a desire to self-indulge prevents people from translating their purportedly environmentally friendly attitudes into low energy use for long distance leisure travel, commonly air travel.

The team points out that, “Public information and awareness campaigns can give consumers information on how to behave in an environmentally responsible way, but tend only to influence categories of consumption with little environmental impact.”

They add that, “Structural change can be used to mitigate the effect of the sense of powerlessness and encourage environmentally friendly behaviour, but the desire to self-indulge is much more difficult to deal with.”

When considering how we approach the issue of our environmental impact, the question that arises time and again and applies equally to taking one more luxury chocolate at Christmas as to booking that exotic holiday: “What is more important: our desire to indulge or the environmental impact of our activities?”

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