The guilt report: 2020 edition

Are you feeling a little (or a lot) guilty about taking long showers in the morning, throwing away a water bottle instead of recycling it, or blasting your heat when you get home from work? If so, then you have a lot in common with many people across the country. As climate change news and headlines become more prevalent, so does eco guilt. What’s eco guilt? It’s that feeling you get when you know that you could adjust your habits to be more green usually resulting from learning more about climate change, pollution, or listening to climate change activists, like Greta Thunberg.

At Vivint Solar, not only do we want to help you buy solar panels, we also want to understand who is feeling eco guilt and what makes them feel this way. In order to dive into the topic, we surveyed a group of 2,500 people varying in age and gender throughout the United States. The results may surprise you.

Want to see if you’re in line with everyone else? Check out our findings below. If you’d like to see all the data we gathered, click here.

See the end of the report for tips for alleviating eco guilt.

Guilt Report Infograph 4 JM-01

As stated above, eco guilt is the feeling you get when know you could be doing more to be environmentally friendly or adjusting your day-to-day habits to be more green. If you find yourself feeling this, you’re not alone, 70% of our survey respondents report feeling guilty about wasting energy in their homes. Surprisingly, feelings of guilt decreased with age. Only 55% of respondents in our oldest group of people (55+) felt guilty about wasting energy in their homes, whereas 77% of respondents in our youngest group (18–24) felt guilt around wasting energy. Interestingly enough, this trend consistently continued with respondents’ guilt gradually decreasing with each progressive age group.

When asked why they felt guilty about wasting energy in their homes, 53% of our survey respondents reported that they felt that way because of the environmental impact it has, as well as the cost—28% reported that they felt that way due to cost alone and only 18% of the participants felt that way solely because of the environmental impact. One of the biggest surprises we uncovered was the small difference between men and women when it comes to feeling guilty about the environmental impact of wasting energy in the home. Our survey data reports that 20% of men cared about the environmental impact alone as compared to 16% of women.

We used the example of turning up the heat in the winter and the air conditioning in the summer as a common denominator to discover how people were using (and feeling guilty about wasting) energy in their homes. 48% of respondents felt guilty about the environmental impact of turning up their heat during the winter and 49% of respondents felt eco guilt about turning down their air conditioning during the summer. Interestingly, we saw a similar trend among different age groups when asked about the eco guilt they felt when using their heat or AC. The majority (55%) of respondents in the 18–34 age group felt guilty about the environmental impact of turning up the heat while only 40% of respondents in the 55+ age group felt guilty about this.

Overall, we saw a trend in which younger respondents felt more eco guilt than the group of people in our older respondents. More about this below.

Guilt Report Infograph 4 JM-02

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Guilt Report Infograph 4 JM-03

Along with discovering if a selection of Amercians were feeling eco guilt, we wanted to understand what activities or green habits people were feeling guilty about not participating in, like trying to conserve energy in their homes, wasting water, or not recycling.

Collectively, 71% of respondents reported feeling guilty about not recycling; 70% felt guilty about wasting energy; and only 57% felt guilty about wasting water. These numbers get more interesting when they are broken out by generation. 75% of respondents from the age range of 18–34 reported that they felt guilty about not recycling; that number dropped to 66% in the 55 and older age range. Not recycling, however, was the reason that respondents 55 and older felt the most guilty as opposed to wasting energy or water in their homes. Wasting energy was the reason that both age groups 18–34 and 35–54 felt the most eco guilt.

Guilt Report Infograph 5 JM-04

Let’s be real. Who hasn’t tossed a plastic water bottle in the trash because the recycling was too far away, left their car running in a drive-thru to keep the heat going, or cranked up the AC to full blast on a hot day in July? We are all guilty of not being 100% eco friendly from time-to-time.

Do we feel guilty because we personally know we should be making better, greener choices or do we feel guilty because we are being influenced by those we know? In other words, would we feel as guilty about not recycling a water bottle if we were alone or do we feel guilty, because someone is watching us not recycle it? It is more than likely that the answer is a combination of both things, but it is clear from our respondents’ answers that almost half of us are influenced by others when it comes to improving our green habits. 49% of those who took our survey said that they changed their habits to be more “green” when others were around.

Guilt Report Infograph 5 JM-06

More specifically, the majority of Americans we surveyed (41%) reported that their spouse or partner’s opinion mattered the most to them. Women, however, were more likely than men to care about what their children and grandchildren felt at 43%; whereas men were more concerned about the opinions of their spouse or partner at 46%.

Guilt Report Infograph 4 JM-05

There are many factors adding to our feelings of eco guilt, one of which is clearly the headlines we see and news we hear. There’s no denying that climate change headlines are stressing us out.

The majority of our respondents (54%) reported feeling stressed when they saw headlines about climate change. This number goes up to 65% when asked of respondents 18–34; the percentage of women (57%) were also more affected by these types of headlines. However, respondents in the 55 and older group reported feeling less stress about climate change headlines; only 46% of them reported feeling stress when confronted with news or headlines about climate change.

Guilty Conclusions

In conclusion, it appears as if many of us are feeling the anxiety of eco guilt. Our younger survey respondents are feeling it more than our older survey respondents and generally, most of the Americans we surveyed are more concerned about wasting energy than anything else due to worries of environmental impact and cost combined.

Ultimately, however, this report begs the question if having eco guilt is really such a bad thing? While guilt isn’t a great feeling, it is a great motivator. If our eco guilt inspires us to be more mindful of our behavior and work harder to protect the planet, isn’t that good?

If you agree, here’s a list of a few things you can start doing to stop feeling so much eco guilt and start feeling more positive about your green habits.

 1. This one is obvious, but try driving less. Maybe carpool to work a few times a week with your favorite coworkers.  2. Go meatless a few times a week.  3. Unplug your devices. They have batteries for a reason and they don’t have to be charged at 100% all the time.  4. Plant something. Whether you add a few plants to your house or go full speed ahead at your community garden, the earth will love you for it.  5. Stop using your dryer for everything. Get a drying rack and hang your clothes up to let them air dry.  6. Speaking of dryers, if you can afford it, replace some of your home appliances with smarter, more energy efficient versions; the environment and your bills will appreciate it.  7. Consider going solar. If you’re not ready to install a complete residential system, there are smaller solar energy gadgets you can invest in, like solar powered phone chargers, solar powered outdoor lights, and solar powered speakers.

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