The Conversation

Global Sustainability Statistics: What Do People Think About the Future of Our Planet?

Discover the world’s attitude to going green.

The future of our planet is a critical and much discussed topic in 2024. With technology, government systems, markets, and social infrastructure all struggling to keep up with the ever-evolving state of the environment and its increasingly unstable climate, predictions about what might happen in the future and how we’ll all survive are abundant. 

In these times of uncertainty, it helps to focus on the facts. 

Despite growing awareness, there’s still a lot of confusion around climate change and sustainability practices flying around the internet. This highlights the importance of looking at reliable sources of information to gain a clearer understanding of where we’re at and what’s to come. 

By analysing data from Polly, we were able to gain a deeper insight into how people currently perceive the concept of sustainability and which demographics are most interested in its role in the future of planet Earth. 

Below, we’ll dive into current sustainability statistics and reveal a little more about the environmental and social contexts within which society views sustainability. Let’s get stuck in! 

Which Age Demographic Is Most Vocal About Sustainability?

When most people think of sustainability and social awareness, their thoughts naturally gravitate towards people of a younger age demographic. 

Young climate activists like Greta Thunberg and Dominique Palmer (as well as many others) have paved the way for an extremely environmentally-conscious generation of students and young adults. But that doesn’t mean older demographics are not interested in contributing to this important discourse. 

The data from Polly clearly shows us this, with the red line indicating the expected engagement level per age group and the blue representing the actual number of people as per the census. Polly defines this difference as what we’d get if the engagement were distributed according to the census. This gives us a clear view of whether a particular demographic is over or underrepresented in a conversation, taking into account that some cohorts are larger than others in the population. The “census” is defined as countries where Polly has census data and covers Europe, North America, and Oceania, which is where the global samples for this study were taken from. 

When ranked from the highest response rate to the lowest, Polly’s data found that people in the following age groups were the most vocal about sustainability:

  • >65 – 1.4 million people
  • 55-64 – 1 million people 
  • 45-54 – 600k people
  • <25 – 580k people
  • 35-44 – 250k people
  • 25-34 – 120k people

Looking at these statistics by age, it’s evident that those over 55 are more engaged than expected when it comes to sustainability topics. This implies that people belonging to the Boomer generation are perhaps more driven to engage with sustainability initiatives than other generations tend to believe—or, at the very least, they’d like to have a seat at the table. In contrast, those falling in the 25-34 age group are the least engaged, and their engagement levels are much lower than expected. 

However, these numbers don’t provide a full picture of which age demographic is most invested in sustainability. It simply tells us what the most common age range was for those studied – which isn’t too surprising because another report finds that 65> is one of the most popular age ranges for survey responses. 

Moving from data studies and surveys to the real world, younger generations are more likely to take action when it comes to physical protests, demonstrations, and other actionable forms of participation. 

Sustainability Stances By Location

Another aspect of sustainability awareness statistics that we looked into was location. The data shows that from 2023 into early 2024, North Americans exceeded expectations and were most likely to respond positively to sustainability and play an active role in going green, followed by Europeans, Pacific Islanders, and Latin Americans. To sum up, the data revealed the following numbers of people per country who had adopted a positive,  proactive stance on sustainability:

  • North America – 2.2 million people
  • Europe – 1.2 million people
  • Oceania – 610k people
  • Latin America – 80k people

It’s interesting to note that North America beats Europe quite dramatically, as Europe is home to the top 10 countries ranked by the Environmental Performance Index (EPI). In fact, North America is not just in the lead; it has a million more people taking a positive stance on sustainability than Europe, far exceeding expectations. 

Europe’s census numbers are far lower than the expected engagement, while Oceania is a little ahead in terms of expected versus actual engagement. Latin America comes in last, with expected and actual engagement both woefully low and a large gap between the expectation and census count.

Gender and Sustainability 

Gender is another factor that plays a role in how likely a person is to want to participate in the discourse of sustainability and the future of the planet. In several studies, women are more likely to be focused on sustainability and the conservation of the planet than men or people of other genders. Polly’s global-reaching data confirmed this, as of those surveyed:

  • Over 2 million were female 
  • Approximately 1.5 million were male 

As these figures show, women are once again visibly more concerned about sustainability, with the census count surpassing the expected numbers. Men’s engagement is not only unsurprisingly lower than women’s, but when comparing the online and census results, it’s also less than expected. 

There are many speculations about why this may be the case. Some studies argue that women are more biologically and evolutionarily driven to conserve. Others claim that, socially, women are less conditioned to want to exploit resources or that they simply have fewer resources to exploit. 

Other research indicates that because women are often positioned in the role of caregivers, they are, therefore, more likely to want to engage in important social and environmental issues. Doing so may allow them to extend those deeply ingrained caregiver instincts to other people and, indeed, the planet. 

Sustainability Practices And Stances: What Does The World Say?

Sustainability is a very broad word that can be used in a wide variety of different contexts and industries across the globe. There are also a lot of different ways it can be manifested into practical, actionable methodologies for environmental progress and the slowing down of climate change. 

Recycling, renewable energy systems, clever conservation strategies, diet adjustments, and finding ways to reduce your carbon footprint are all accessible practices for sustainability in our current landscape, and naturally, people have opinions about them all. Here’s what our study of Polly’s census data found: 

  1. 30% of people believe that recycling promotes sustainability 

Less than one-third of the people in the census agreed with the statement “recycling promotes sustainability.” This number might seem low, but in reality, there’s been a steady decline in faith in recycling across the world for a while now. 

Over the past few years, recycling as the hero of sustainability has lost some of its allure, and when you look into why, it’s easy to understand the lack of faith. 

While recycling as a general concept is still a relevant and valuable one, the way in which single-use products are being recycled today is often ineffective, leading to a growing scepticism among consumers about whether it is worth the effort. However, with enough research and a more informed approach to recycling, people can debunk common recycling myths and regain their confidence in the process. 

  1. 28% of people believe that sustainability is important for reducing greenhouse gas emissions 

Sustainability strategies are indisputably important for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions are one of the most toxic substances on the planet, and as a society, we produce an enormous quantity of them every year through our use of cars, aeroplanes, factories, and more. 

Developing a clearer understanding of what greenhouse gas emissions are and where they come from is a great way to start contributing to a greener planet. The sustainability practices best known for reducing greenhouse gas emissions include:

  • Swapping out a regular car for an electric vehicle (EV)
  • Walking and cycling more 
  • Travelling by plane less 
  • Using solar power instead of electricity 
  • Buying from brands that are also reducing their greenhouse gas emissions 

A reduction in greenhouse gas emissions will mean that the earth’s rising temperatures can slow down, keeping the planet cooler for longer and diminishing the amount of environmental turbulence that scientists predict for the future. 

  1. 19% of people believe that renewable energy promotes sustainability  

And this 19% are correct. Renewable energy is one of the most reliable and effective ways to promote sustainability, which is why it is being used all over the world for its ability not only to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions but also to diversify global energy supplies and create economic opportunities for manufacturing, employment, and installation. 

  1. 12% of people believe that sustainability is important for reducing carbon footprint 

Reducing your carbon footprint simply means reducing the amount of energy you use or consume on a daily or annual basis. It involves any actions that help support the longevity of the planet by removing items, habits, practices, or travel methods that increase greenhouse gas emissions. 

There is no precise calculator for learning what your carbon footprint is, but you can estimate how big it may be by taking an honest look at how your lifestyle choices impact the rest of the planet. 

  1. 10% of people believe that sustainability is important for conservation 

Conservation is the process of preventing the waste of a finite, valuable resource, such as water, oxygen, energy, or raw materials. While only 10% said that sustainability is important for conservation, this is an absolute truth when it comes to preserving the life of our planet. 

Adopting a conservative approach to resource mining and management is crucial for ensuring that the earth’s finite resources are utilised in a sustainable way and can remain available for us to build a solid future for many, many years to come. 

How Important Is A Sustainable Lifestyle To UK Consumers?

When looking more locally, sustainability is considered very important to most UK citizens. In fact, the UK was ranked as the third greenest country in the world by GreenMatch in 2023, and it will retain that title in 2024. 

Not only does Great Britain have a high climate policy performance, but it also demonstrates a clear stance on sustainability among consumers. Most consumers in the UK choose to shop and live their lives in an eco-conscious way, making it one of the best places for sustainable shopping in the world.

Let’s take a look at some key sustainability statistics pertaining to lifestyle and consumer habits in the UK right now as per The Changing Climate of Sustainability report from NielsenIQ:

  1. 61% of UK consumers say sustainability has become more important to them in the last 2 years 

The past two years have been crucial for consumer’s relationships with sustainability. As brands have ramped up their greenification techniques and chosen to highlight more ethical and environmentally friendly practices, consumers’ awareness of the importance of sustainability has risen. 

  1. 55% of UK consumers say living sustainably is important for society, and they try to make sustainable choices when they can

A huge portion of UK consumers take sustainable living seriously and are continuing to seek out more eco-friendly products and brand choices where they can. This helps boost the sustainable product industry and normalise the importance of brands aligned with these values. 

  1. 76% of UK consumers are calling out for companies to take the initiative to reduce their environmental footprint

Without being challenged to change their ways, most brands and companies simply won’t. The fact that such a high volume of consumers are taking it upon themselves to call out companies to take initiative is a sign that people’s perceptions of what a good brand looks like are changing. 

  1. 30% of UK consumers are likely to stop buying if a brand is found guilty of greenwashing, compared to the global average of 23%

Nielsen found that the global average of consumers who will flat-out stop buying from a greenwashing brand is 23%, while the UK consumer population percentage is a higher 30% overall. However, a KPMG study revealed that an even higher number of UK consumers, 54%, say they would boycott a company that misled them about its sustainability practices.  

This kind of commitment to sustainability values and goals is a good sign for society as initiatives and organisations from all over aim to dismantle greenwashing and shift more focus onto brands that demonstrate more transparency about the ethics and processes used by their company. 

Focusing On A More Sustainable Future

Developing a sound understanding of what sustainability is and how both global and UK consumers relate to it is a powerful way to learn more about what the future of our planet might look like. 

By looking at Polly’s data, it’s evident that while expected engagement levels aren’t always reached, in other cases, they’re exceeded. Overall, it’s clear that a growing number of people are talking about sustainability and becoming increasingly aware of how pollution, climate change, and greenhouse gas emissions are impacting the environment. This is leading to a greater push for better resource management and lifestyle habits and a better future for all. 

About the Data

Data sourced from Polly, who created an independent sample of 4,083,965 people from Twitter, Reddit and TikTok worldwide over the past 12 months up to 31st Jan 2024. Responses were collected and analysed to produce outcomes within a 90% confidence interval and 5% margin of error. Engagement estimated how many people in the location are participating. Demographics were determined using many features, including name, location and self-disclosed description. Privacy was preserved using k-anonymity and differential privacy. Results are based on what people describe online — questions were not posed to the people in the sample.