The poll, which surveyed 2,352 nationally representative adults online, found that fewer Americans said they were likely to buy local foods, down from 39 percent to 33 percent, and fewer respondents said they bought organic foods, down from 17 to 15 percent. Nevertheless, there was an increase in the number of those polled who said they were environmentally conscious. The market research organization suggested that the economic climate could have negatively impacted consumers’ eco-friendly purchase decisions as they prioritize saving money over the environment.
“More adults than before now label themselves in environmental terms,” the organization said. “Only time will tell if Americans are just paying lip service to trendy buzz words like ‘green’ and ‘environmentalist,’ or if these are signs of a gradually expanding small but vocal ‘green movement.’ One point to consider, though, is the economy: it's possible that, in economic hard times, environmental enthusiasm wanes as people face tougher financial problems.”
However, the poll’s findings on consumer attitudes toward organic foods have not been supported by sales data, including from the US Department of Agriculture and the Organic Trade Association, which has found that although organic food sales growth slowed in 2010, there was still an upward trend.
In general terms, 36 percent of respondents said they were concerned about the planet they are leaving behind for future generations, compared to 43 percent in 2009. And while 36 percent said environmental issues influenced their voting choices in 2009, that proportion was down to 28 percent last year.
Meanwhile, American adults were more likely to describe themselves as ‘conservationist’ (20 percent in 2010 vs. 17 percent in 2009), ‘green’ (18 percent vs. 13 percent), and ‘environmentalist’ (16 percent vs. 13 percent).
The poll also found that sexual orientation was often a predictor of attitudes toward the environment, with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) adults more likely to express concern about the environment than their heterosexual counterparts. Environmental concern has increased among LGBT adults since 2009, while it decreased in the general population.
The Harris poll also found that Americans were less likely to make an effort to use less water last year, down from 60 percent to 57 percent; to compost food and organic waste, down from 17 percent to 15 percent; and to switch from bottled to tap water, down from 29 percent to 23 percent.