The Core Values of Sustainability and Environmental Stewardship
If Everyone Swept in front of Their Own Door, the Whole World Would Be Clean
How Does the New American Middle Think About the Environment?
While we know the environment generally ranks high among the NAM, pulling out specific questions regarding the environment is much harder. In large part it’s because of confusion about the words we use talking about the problem and the context of the discussion.
We will explore influences and reasons for the confusion as we proceed in this paper. Before we go much further, we must all understand the first big Y in the road. If we get this, we will be prepared to better parse confusion as we find it along the way. Here it is:
Report that Middle America doesn’t care about global warming and this practical group will argue their position. “Oh yeah? I do care, but what can I actually do about it? If only the politicians would do their job.” They might post some thoughts on social media, but they will seldom hold a sign and protest about something like this. While the NAM has 4 Core Values, they will avoid the point of diminished returns. They know climate change is a big problem, but that is just it. It is a problem for the BIG folks. Their own time is better spent sweeping in front of their own doors.
The point we are making is, if you quiz the NAM concerning the macro side of the environmental challenge, they’ll acknowledge a problem, but won’t commit themselves. It’s because what can they do about a melting glacier? Their “worry bucket” is already full. Ask them about something they can do, and then you find more passion and activation. Tell them that making real change will end industry jobs and disrupt society, and they’ll stiffen up. Tell them that new jobs and opportunities are the result of the change, and they’ll relax.
They also know that to make real change, it must take place at all levels. Consumers must do better, and the brands they buy from must also bring solutions. Big brands can’t continue to make toxic plastics and then point their fingers at the consumers who buy them and throw them out. Change must take place at both ends of the problem. Big and small and in between. Just like the NAM.
In April 2022, Deloitte published what it calls a Sustainable Actions Index. It outlines various characteristics and attributes of people who intend to make a difference. This study seems to be describing the NAM as well as any we have found. While it gathered survey responses from 23 countries, it addresses the heart of the NAM value system when it comes to the environment. Here are a few excerpts:
The NAM Core 4 Value of Family means they will work at home to make things healthier now and for the future:
The NAM Core 4 Value of Community means the NAM associates with both tangible community and interest-based groups. Here is some other info in regard to how this group sees themselves:
Business Wire, a Berkshire Hathaway Company, in “Americans in Agreement: Recycling is Important and Should Be a Priority,” reported that 94 percent of Americans are supportive of recycling. “Americans in Agreement: Recycling is Important and Should Be a Priority.”
In the report, Jason Pelz, vice president of recycling projects for the Carton Council of North America and vice president, environment, for Tetra Pak Americas, said, “Today, more than 62 percent of American households have access to carton recycling, and we’re excited to continue working with governments, recyclers and many other stakeholders to ensure that every food and beverage carton ends up in a recycling bin and is turned into new, useful products.”
The American Communities Project (ACP) continues to probe attitudes and interests among its 15 identified community demographic clusters. The group credited what has been called “a limited pool of worry” for the decline in the public’s interest in the environment through the 2009–10 recession. But a 2021 study showed a significant lift among all communities surveyed. Take a look at other facts and observations to come from the study:
The report also states: “The Dismissive and Doubtful groups are overrepresented in Congress ... and have more vocal proponents than do the Disengaged or Cautious. As a result, many Americans overestimate the sizes of these population segments and often underestimate how many people actually worry about climate change and want to transition more quickly away from fossil fuels and toward renewables as our primary energy sources.”
This seems true when we consider the NAM. If so, then it is another peek into the fuzzy world of societal bias and reporting imbalances. Maybe the NAM needs to shout more to get attention? Pushed too far, the NAM will raise their voices. When they do, they will start at school boards, city planning councils. Do I hear them in the distance?
In February 2022, an Ipsos global survey indicated that three-quarters of people want single-use plastics banned:
The five countries with the highest levels of agreement are Mexico (96%), Brazil (95%), Colombia (94%), and Chile and Peru (both 92%). Those with the lowest ones are Japan (70%), the US (78%) and Canada (79%).
We think the following statement is a fair summary of the NAM point of view regarding responsibility for environmental management:
BIG governmental influence/intrusion may not be very welcome in my lifestyle, but if there is one place it needs to intrude, it is on BIG environmental issues that are out of reach of the individual. Global warming is one of them. Only BIG government can monitor challenge and hold BIG polluters accountable.
Added to this point of view is the other end of the issue, local and community:
I am responsible for environmental issue that are within my reach. I will do what I can, encourage others to do the same, and buy from brands that are aware and doing their best to pull in the same direction.
In September 2021, Clifford Young, president of Ipsos public affairs, US, summed up the general public’s views on climate. In one of his ongoing pieces, called “Cliff’s Take: Where America stands on climate change,, he points out that climate change remains top of mind for Americans despite the presence of the pandemic. The catastrophic effects of hurricanes, wildfires, floods, and drought have caught everyone’s attention. Despite warnings from the scientific world, there is still no consensus about the cause, but there is consensus on some aspects, and that consensus remained intact throughout the pandemic.
In 2012, an average of 1 percent of Americans considered climate change to be a main issue. By September 2019, it was 12 percent. By August of 2021, it was down a bit, to 11 percent. We saw those numbers higher among surveys done among the NAM. In fact, concern about the climate and environment is one of the attributes that makes a person a member of the NAM. Our research revealed numbers closer to 18 percent among the NAM.
Young notes that public opinion on the reason for climate change (human activity vs. natural pattern) has shifted from one in three (2017) for natural causes, down to one in four (2021).
There is evidence of public convergence regarding awareness and reasons for climate change. But where everyone comes together is the belief that only big government holds the authority and resources to address the biggest problems.