Thursday 17 October 2019

The green gap: Why men aren't as eco-friendly as women

Studies show that men are less attuned to environmental concerns. Is it a macho thing? John Cradden reports

Saddle up: John Cradden does his bit for the environment by cycling. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Saddle up: John Cradden does his bit for the environment by cycling. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Are women more eco-conscious than men? Before I pondered the question, I wouldn't have believed that. If you try and name famous environmental activists, for instance, how many women figure? The first names I came up were Al Gore, Sir David Attenborough, and George Monbiot. What about you?

If you drill down further, the ranks of notable activists seem to include just as many women as men; names like Rachel Carson, Jane Goodal, Wangari Maathai and Erin Brockovich.

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Not all household names, by any means, although Greta Thunberg, the remarkable Swedish teenager leading the 'school strike for climate' movement, is already set to become the exception.

But if we turn the focus to matters at home, numerous surveys over the last few years have repeatedly highlighted the existence of an 'eco gender gap'.

A 2018 survey of 2,000 adults in the UK by Mintel, a market research firm, showed that men are less likely to pursue environmentally friendly behaviours such as recycling, using less water, and turning off the heating when not at home.

Indeed, numerous other studies, across age groups and countries, have shown how women surpass men in terms of leaving a smaller carbon footprint.

At home, I recycle, I do buy eco-friendly products where I can, I do worry about the Larsen C ice shelf breaking away from Antarctica, and I get irked about excessive plastic packaging. I cycle as often as I can, which leads me to note the number of people who choose to drive their cars to work or their kids to school when they clearly don't need to, thereby driving up CO2 emissions. In other words, I do worry about what planet we are leaving behind for our children.

But according to one study, some believe that this kind of behaviour is only for sissies. In 2016 the Journal of Consumer Research in the US published a study which found that men shun eco-friendly behaviour partly because they think it's unmanly. In a nutshell, it's not that men don't care about the environment, but they did feel that trying to be green made them feel less macho.

Perhaps I'm an exception in that I work from home, and so I end up taking a greater share of the burden of minding our three young children.

After all, one of the explanations proffered as to why women exhibit more eco-friendly behaviour is because they tend to do more of the shopping and day-to-day management of the home. So they tend to make more of the family decisions on things like what products to buy, recycling, packed lunches, school runs, etc.

This is reflected in a recent survey of 1,000 adults by Irish market research firm Behaviour & Attitudes, which found that while both men and women acknowledge the importance of sustainability (and roughly equally; 86pc of women, 81pc of men) it's the actions of women that are quicker to match the words.

Just over half (51pc) of all respondents said they chose products based on whether they are sustainable - rising to 56pc of women, but falling to 47pc of men. The same survey also found that 62pc of women do all or most of the grocery shopping, versus 16pc of men.

"It would appear that woman are indeed more eco-conscious than men when it comes to choosing sustainable products," said Rachael Joyce from Behaviour & Attitudes.

"It's an important finding, given that women are significantly more likely to be the household's primary grocery shopper."

This is of no surprise to Norman Crowley, eco-entrepreneur and founder of Crowley Carbon, a Wicklow-based firm that works with businesses to cut their carbon footprint.

"It's well known that women are more in tune with their families and will make more decisions about them than men," he said.

"We meet people every day in our job, but if we were to explain all about what we're doing to a woman, she would feel more compelled to do something about it," said Crowley.

They may have the edge in terms of the emotional empathy that would drive them to take action, but some would argue that female consumers are very much the driving force behind the $445bn-a-year beauty industry, which creates an astounding amount of waste and environmental destruction.

Yes, male cosmetics are a fast-growing industry too, but unlikely ever to match the scale of the female market.

My wife's eco-consciousness is probably higher than average, though, mainly because she comes from a family that, among other things, recycled diligently for years - and long before it became fashionable.

She has certain eco 'red lines' that can't be crossed: we're not allow to buy a diesel-engined car; food products with palm oil should be avoided; and everyone must follow a basic recycling regime.

She is the self-appointed family gardener, and when we moved to our new home two years ago with a backyard that needed work, I wanted a simple lawn, but she lobbied for a wildlife and bee-friendly meadow. ("It'll look great when it's all grown, honestly." It still doesn't.)

Beyond that, we're actually a bit yin and yang when it comes to the family's eco-choices, but by far the most contentious issue between us is cars, and one that is looming ever closer as our 15-year-old bangers edge ever closer to the point of uneconomic repair.

She would like an electric car, but they are prohibitively expensive new and neither of us is keen on the PCP road. And she won't buy a second-hand for fear that its battery technology will quickly become obsolete or that it will need replacing soon after.

I, however, remain a devoted fan of 'bangernomics', the art of buying an old car cheap and running and maintaining it for as long as possible.

I have even suggested buying a 'modern classic' in good nick, (ie a car around 20 years old) and run it on limited-mileage classic car insurance. The exhaust emissions may be higher, but the way I look at it is that I'm extending the lifecycle of cars that would otherwise be scrapped. But she's not convinced.

As it happens, Crowley recently launched a new company called Electrifi, which offers a new - albeit very expensive - proposition to classic car enthusiasts battling with their eco-consciousness.

The firm will design and manufacture high-performance electric 'hypercars' in Ireland based on iconic classics like Jaguar E-types, Corvettes, Ferraris and Lamborghinis from the '60s, '70s and '80s.

"A car with a big V8 engine is seen as an expression of man-ness," said Crowley. "When people ask us about removing the engine and the loss of noise, well we say to them, try driving a 1,200bhp hypercar and see how you feel about the loss of the noise."

While he is clearly eco-conscious, Crowley does hint at the discomfort some men may have with more traditional environmental activism.

"I think the days of the tree hugger are gone. While there's no doubt that having a high eco-consciousness is a good thing, they're done a pretty shit job in terms of spreading the word, spreading awareness about climate change. There's a much more practical breed taking over - environmental capitalists.

"There's a fair bit of friction between tree huggers and people like ourselves, but it's the only effective way of getting things done."

In my own view, it's difficult to argue that men in general don't care about the environment, otherwise this would figure in consumer surveys such as those by the SEAI and the Eurobarometer, which show that while Irish women are more concerned about things like energy efficiency in the home, the gap is not a huge one.

In fact, when you think about it, it's a ridiculous notion: Not killing the planet is for girls?

Irish Independent

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