Research: Estonians are too selective when it comes to sustainable behavior

Climate: Long-term average data and “nightmare” scenario for 2070
Climate: Long-term average data and “nightmare” scenario for 2070 Source: Evelyn Uuemaa. Andmeallikas: WorldClim

The willingness of people in Estonia to make environmentally friendly choices on a daily basis has declined over the past year, according to a survey commissioned by Orkla Group. Grete Arro, a research fellow at Tallinn University, said that it is dangerous when a few of Eco-friendly practices create a false sense of security.

For the fourth consecutive year, the survey finds that among seven nations Estonians are the most skeptical about climate change. They are the least likely to consistently make environmentally conscientious choices and are the least concerned about the environmental impact of products. In addition to Estonia, the poll included Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Compared to the average of the seven nations, Estonians have a relatively low level of environmental concern. It was shown that 57 percent of people, compared to the national average of 68 percent, are actively reducing food waste at home. On average, two-thirds of people sort waste, compared to only 46 percent of Estonians.

Compared to the average of 38 percent in seven other nations, 21 percent of Estonians make an effort to purchase local food. A tenth of Estonians consume less meat for environmental reasons, compared to the average of one-fifth of respondents. Nevertheless, the pursuit of a car-free lifestyle is one of the few areas in which Estonians are more enthusiastic than the national average: 22 percent of Estonians, compared to 16 percent of the total population, are attempting to give up their car.

The concern is wider, and yet...

In all nations, people's readiness to make sustainable decisions decreased throughout the course of the year. People still enjoy flying and consuming meat and there is a general lack of interest in waste sorting. In addition, there has been an increase in the percentage of people who say they do not know whether a product is sustainable or not, which explains why they do not make sustainable choices when shopping, for example.

However, comparing the seven countries, it was shown that Estonians are the least concerned about climate change, with only 58 percent as opposed to an average of 67 percent across the seven countries. One-third of Estonians deny the existence of a global climate crisis, making them the biggest climate skeptics. Last year, 28 percent of respondents denied the existence of climate change, an increase of 5 percent from the previous year.

The inclination of Estonians to limit consumption and sort waste decreased during the course of the year.

Climate protest on Toompea in Tallinn in 2019. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Nonetheless, people in Estonia are concerned about food, energy sources and woods. Estonians' general sentiments are comparable to those of their neighbors, although they are significantly less likely to take action. Although 37 percent of Estonians claim to avoid purchasing things packaged in plastic, just 9 percent actually do so.

Grete Arro: Sustainability is needed in every walk of life

The Estonian Environmental Awareness Survey 2022, which was conducted in October of last year, also revealed differences in Estonian attitudes and practices. "We are less concerned about the environment than we believe," Arro said on Terevision.

She identified the elements that correlate with self-reported environmentally conscientious behavior in a study commissioned by the Ministry of the Environment:

"If people say that they have chosen to be environmentally conscious, that it aligns with their values and that they understand why it is necessary, then this is one of the most significant predictors that they will engage in a variety of environmentally conscious behaviors," Arro said.

People's environmental behavior improved when they backed broader societal improvements. "This predictor is very accurate. This, in turn, is strongly related to the degree of environmental awareness," Arro said.

Highlights from the Orkla study

  • Skepticism about the climate crisis is growing, as are concerns about the future availability of food sources.
  • In everyday life, Estonians are the least resilient people assessed, yet their attitudes are not lagging behind.
  • The readiness to reduce overall consumption, sort waste and increase the proportion of plant-based foods decreased over the past year.
  • The desire for a car-free lifestyle has increased in Estonia, although the willingness to walk or cycle has declined.
  • Half of Estonians do not believe that recyclable packaging is important.
  • Two-thirds of Estonians cannot distinguish between sustainable and recyclable products.

The researcher said that people's responses could be grouped.

For example, one group that has emerged is a group of ecologically conscientious respondents who claimed to minimize their consumption. "For example, they said they would rather try to buy less new stuff, be more frugal with transportation and buy less over-packaged products."

Another group of environmentally conscious respondents reported purchasing more green and Eco-labeled products. These respondents reported also being a little active in society, such as educating others about environmental issues, going for walks and voting for green politicians.

Climate protest on Toompea in Tallinn in 2019. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Arro said, "I am concerned that the assumption may be that we do not choose ecologically conscious behaviors, but rather that we do them all because we must."

In other words, engaging in one environmentally friendly endeavor may lead a person to believe that it compensates for all of their other actions. "We should be conscious that doing one good deed does not mean we can let our guard down somewhere else," Arro said.

On the good side, she reported that during the past two years, an increasing number of responders have prioritized biodiversity conservation in their daily operations. Previously, about 30 percent of respondents believed that less frequent lawn mowing could help maintain biodiversity; now, more than 45 percent agree. "This is a tremendous leap," she said.

General findings from the Orkla survey in seven countries

  • Global warming remains the biggest concern. Concerns regarding future food sources have grown.
  • It is difficult for people to understand which products are sustainable and which packaging is recyclable.
  • People are less interested in manufacturer and where the product they like is made.
  • The number of people who prefer to buy products with a lower climate impact or with a sustainable impact decreased significantly over the year.
  • Willingness to sort waste decreased over the year, but willingness to save energy at home and use public transport increased.
  • One more person claims to eat less meat and buy less clothes


Follow ERR News on Facebook and Twitter and never miss an update!

Editor: Airika Harrik, Kristina Kersa

Source: "Terevisioon"

Hea lugeja, näeme et kasutate vanemat brauseri versiooni või vähelevinud brauserit.

Parema ja terviklikuma kasutajakogemuse tagamiseks soovitame alla laadida uusim versioon mõnest meie toetatud brauserist: