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Brexit Casts a Shadow Over UK's Green Future


UK adults overwhelmingly believe Brexit is the biggest threat to our future success and happiness - above health, wealth or the environment.

Almost two thirds (62%) of the population thought Brexit was our biggest challenge while only 26% believed that health and well-being were important, meanwhile 21% felt the inequality between rich and poor needed to be addressed and only 13% believed that the environment deserved attention on the national agenda, according to a consumer study report by Schneider Electric.

However, British consumers believe the UK government should be investing in health and wellbeing (39%). One third (34%) said that if they were in charge they would put their money towards ensuring the smooth transition for the UK whatever the future holds.

90% of UK consumers have no plans to do more to improve their own well-being and that of the planet.

August 1st marks the earliest Earth Overshoot Day[1] ever recorded - the date when we (all of humanity) have used more from nature than our planet can renew in the entire year. First calculated in 1969, when it fell on 29 December, this date has been hurtling towards an earlier date each year. In 1988 it fell on 15 October, in 1998 - on 30 September, while in 2008 it was already confirmed for 15 August. If the present trend continues we could reach Earth Overshoot Day in January within the next 50-60 years.

Schneider Electric calculates that the world will need to consume 1.5 times more energy within the next 40 years thanks to the increasing electrification of all aspects of our lives. But we will need to halve CO2 emissions in order to avoid irreversible damage to our planet. That means we need to become three times more efficient in the way we consume energy.

Worryingly, 16% of respondents, approximately 10.2 million UK residents, have no intention of curbing their energy consumption habits whatsoever. Whilst 74% believe they are already saving energy. However, according to official UK figures[2], UK households are now the largest emitter of greenhouse gases accounting for one-quarter of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

If we are to reverse the negative trend of using more of the earth’s natural resources earlier and earlier each year, it is clear that energy efficiency is a much bigger challenge than we realise. UK consumers admit to leaving 77 million lights, devices or appliances on, or on standby, every day. Previous studies[3] have suggested that over £1bn worth of energy is wasted each year due to electronic devices and appliances left on or on standby. However, just 6.2% of the UK population think we need to reduce our energy consumption. Almost half of us, 46%, believe their partner or children to be the worst culprits for leaving lights, devices and appliances switched on in their home - only 9% blame themselves.

The Schneider Electric survey indicates that short-term concerns are dwarfing longer-term issues. Only 25% of UK consumers said that the benefits for future generations would motivate them to reduce the impact of carbon emissions on the environment - 42% said that financial incentives from the government would motivate them; 56% said it would be the rising cost of energy bills.

“Earth Overshoot Day - the earliest it’s ever been - needs to be a wake-up call. We all need to look at how we can start to reverse this trend of using the earth’s resources faster and faster. This includes how we produce goods in manufacturing plants, how we occupy buildings, store our data and even turn on the lights at home. It is worrying that UK consumers believe that they are already doing enough when it comes to their lifestyle choices, especially when it comes to the environment. Collectively, we must become three times more efficient if we are to successfully meet the challenge ahead.

“As our country becomes increasingly digitised and electrified we need to become smarter about how we create and consume energy. Efficiency holds the key to our future wellbeing and it is clear that we need to engage and educate the UK’s younger generations as a matter of urgency,” says Mike Hughes, Zone President for the UK and Ireland at Schneider Electric.

Generation Z - or young adults between the age of 18 and 24 - were half as likely to think that reducing energy consumption is an issue and four times less likely to believe that cutting plastic waste is an issue compared to those over the age of 55. Gen Z also admits to leaving on average 3.38 lights, chargers, electronic devices or appliances either on or on standby each day in their homes versus 2.1 for over 55s.

Over a quarter of the Gen Z respondents (28%) said they had no desire to reduce their plastic waste, energy consumption (27%) or start recycling any time soon (25%). However, 29% intend to cut plastic waste, 20% promise to recycle more and 17% are committed to reducing their energy consumption by switching off unused lights and devices as they were not doing this already.

As the digital native generation, Generation Z - are already big consumers of energy - more likely to livestream videos than watch traditional TV or read a book, shop online and use connected devices. This generation will be the biggest energy users of tomorrow.

“Winning over Generation Z could be the tipping point between whether the UK will become a nation driven by efficiency or whether we will drown in a waste-filled future. They are more apathetic while at the same time more likely to promise to change their future behaviour, than any other age group - showing a significant opportunity to drive change. This age group is the most critical to the UK achieving its future climate goals and reversing the overshoot trend,” Hughes concludes.

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/25-year-environment-plan

[2] https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/environmentalaccounts/bulletins/ukenvironmentalaccounts/2018

[3] https://www.gocompare.com/press-office/2016/waste-of-energy-infographic

About The Research: In May and June 2018 Schneider Electric conducted consumer survey research across 2000 respondents in the UK. The purpose of the research was to uncover and understand the attitudes and behaviour of a range of respondents on current issues facing society.

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