Does Environmentalism Have An Image Problem?

Does Environmentalism Have An Image Problem?

There are many negative stereotypes associated with ethical and sustainable living. The environmental movement in particular seems to have a bad name - the negative stereotype of the “tree hugging hippie”.

Stereotypes exist in all areas of life - including gender, race, religion, social class, political views. The list goes on and on but they are damaging generalisations that can lead to issues like bullying, isolation and other negative impacts.

The Journal of Consumer Research found evidence in a series of 7 studies that people perceive consumers who behave in an eco-friendly way as “more feminine” and that those consumers perceive themselves as “more feminine”. Although this isn’t necessarily a harmful thing, the research shows that men may be avoiding green behaviours in order to ‘protect their masculinity’.

Previous research has found that women tend to be more environmentally responsible, seeing environmentalism as important to protecting themselves and their families.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that women are less likely than men to support cuts to environmental spending, and are less sympathetic to business when it comes to environmental regulation.

For whatever reasons, sustainability seems to be more appealing to women. But if men are being excluded from the environmental agenda and feel unable to participate because it’s “not for them” then that’s a big problem for everyone.

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University found that in America, the average single man is responsible for the equivalent of 32 tons of carbon dioxide a year, compared with 30 tons for a woman. This is mostly because of vehicle use.

Studies in Europe have reached similar conclusions, finding that women worldwide have less effect on the atmosphere, in part because they drive and fly less. Men in developed countries also eat more meat than women according to research, which is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

Generally sustainability is less appealing to men and we are failing to engage them in the environmental agenda, and yet they are statistically the bigger contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

The stereotypes and gender gap is backfiring on the movement. Despite becoming more mainstream in recent years and moving away from the ‘tree hugging hippie’ negative image, sustainability is clearly still excluding a major percentage of the population from the conversation.

Global warming and environmental pollution is something that globally we must work together to solve, so if any demographic in society feels excluded from that we’re not going to succeed.

In order to become more mainstream, the environmental movement worked hard to create a friendly, accessible face for itself, away from the traditional stereotypes. Many campaigns found common ground with people on the basis of concern for children, health and the future we are creating. Somehow, however, in this messaging shift, we have created another problem and excluded a different audience, and we must now work to make the movement more inclusive.

Temperatures are breaking records around the world and there is no longer a scientific debate about the reality of climate change. Multiple studies show that 97 per cent of researchers believe that global warming is happening, and they agree that trends observed over the last century are probably due to human activity.

Sea levels are rising at their fastest rate for more than 2,000 years and the Earth’s temperature is predicted to rise by up to 6 degrees by the end of the 21st century.

Every year Earth Overshoot Day - the day by which we will have used more resources from nature than the planet can renew in the whole year, moves earlier. In 2017, it fell on August 2nd.

Earth Overshoot Day - Global Footprint Network

Globally, our demand for ecological resources and services is exceeding what Earth can give us. We are maintaining this deficit by diminishing natural resources at an alarming rate and accumulating waste - emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and creating a recipe for disaster.

Experts warn that climate change will create the biggest refugee crisis the world has ever seen. Environmentally we are all living beyond our means, and it’s a problem we can only solve by working together - because the effects of climate change will have a major impact for us all.

Yet according to YouGov research, climate change is considered only the third most serious issue facing the world, behind international terrorism, and poverty, hunger and lack of drinking water.


In order to have a truly meaningful impact in the fight to save our planet, we must involve everyone in the conversation, and everyone must be inspired to act.

It’s time to address the image problem in environmentalism and make the agenda more inclusive. The future of our planet may depend on it.

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