Public opinion split over whether elected leaders fully understand fossil fuel costs
NEW YORK – As Americans count down to Election Day, more than three-quarters (78 per cent) believe the winner of the presidential race should prioritize the faster adoption of renewable energy, according to a study by G&S Business Communications.
The G&S Sense & Sustainability Study was conducted online by Harris Poll in Aug. 2016 among 2,007 US adults.
Despite strong public sentiment favoring the next president’s focus on renewables, the G&S study found that American opinion is practically split when it comes to elected leaders and their understanding of the costs associated with fossil fuels.
More than half (52 per cent) disagree, as compared to 48 per cent who agree, that elected officials are well informed about fossil energy’s total costs, among them the effects of air pollution on healthcare and the impact of climate change on property insurance.
Public uncertainty about elected leaders does not appear to have discouraged the view that government can play a key role in creating advantages for consumers with a marketplace that allows for broader competition among suppliers of electric power.
More than 4 in 5 Americans (85 per cent) believe customers benefit from having alternatives to conventional power utilities, such as distributed energy resources that include rooftop solar and wind.
In addition, more than three-quarters (77 per cent) say government regulators should develop a pricing model that ensures utility companies pay for excess power supplied to the grid by smaller scale, independently owned device operators.
“Even the contentious nature of this year’s presidential campaign could not distract Americans from recognizing the importance of renewable energy to future economic growth and their own personal well-being,” said Ron Loch, G&S managing director and sustainability consulting leader.
Americans believe the advantages of market competition may go beyond cost savings. More than two-thirds (68 per cent) feel it is more important to have a resilient power grid than to enjoy lower electricity costs.
“It’s clear that public interest is served when there are discussions about the broader financial impact of fossil energy and the need to improve both energy efficiency and the infrastructure investment required to build a resilient power grid. Industry, government and civil society can better educate and engage by communicating about environmental and social responsibility in ways that tie back to stakeholders’ interests in choice, flexibility and security,” said Loch.
Targeted communications may help stem the rising number of Americans who choose to be uninformed about corporate sustainability or social responsibility.
More than one-quarter of Americans (27 per cent) in 2016 do not use any sources to learn about business efforts to promote environmentally or socially responsible practices or products, up from the previous two years (25 per cent in 2015 and 20 per cent in 2014).
Among the sources Americans rely upon to learn about corporate commitments to “going green,” the news media remains the most popular for the third year in a row (50 per cent in 2016, 54 per cent in 2015 and 57 per cent in 2014).
Key findings from the study include the following:
- Americans voice strong support for raising the priority of renewables on the White House agenda. More than three-quarters of Americans (78 percent) believe the next president should dedicate more attention to speeding up renewable energy adoption. Among issues ranked most influential on accelerating use of renewable energy, cost savings from energy efficiency was cited most often (26 percent), followed by energy security (23 percent) and cost to taxpayers for government incentives (19 percent).
- U.S. opinions appear divided when it comes to elected officials and their understanding of the broader financial impact of fossil energy dependence. More than half (52 percent) disagree, as compared to 48 percent who agree, that elected leaders are well informed about both direct costs and externalities, including power plant financing and operations, effect of air pollution on healthcare and impact of climate change on property insurance. Regionally, Americans in the Midwest (59 percent) are more likely than those in the Northeast (49 percent) and in the South (47 percent) to disagree that elected officials comprehend the full costs associated with fossil energy.
- Americans can see the benefits of a more resilient power grid and increased competition among power suppliers. More than two-thirds (68 percent) feel it is more important to have a resilient power grid than to have lower electricity costs. In addition, 85 percent recognize the advantage for customers in having alternatives to conventional electric utilities, and 77 percent believe government regulations should make sure utilities pay for excess power independently supplied to the grid by distributed energy resources.
- For the third consecutive year, the news media remains the top source for Americans to learn about the sustainability efforts of businesses, but there is an increasing trend among those who stay uninformed. For the third year running, Americans say they turn to the news media for information about CSR and environmental sustainability(50 percent in 2016, 54 percent in 2015 and 57 percent in 2014). More than one-quarter (27 percent) do not rely on any sources to learn about environmentally and socially responsible practices among businesses, an increase from 25 percent in 2015 and 20 percent in 2014.
- Reliance on advertising and personal contacts for CSR news is dwindling. Advertisements continue to experience the greatest decline, dropping in 2016 to 21 percent as compared to 27 percent in 2015 and 37 percent in 2014. Also notable is the downturn in use of word-of-mouth sources such as family and friends, which fell to 34 percent in 2016, as compared to 40 percent in 2015 and 41 percent in 2014.
- For the second year in a row, the same three industries of agriculture, food and beverage, and energy lead with positive reputations for sustainability while manufacturing, leisure services and transportation lag again.Among the industries measured, Americans ranked agriculture (45 percent in 2016 vs. 47 percent in 2015); food and beverage (40 percent in 2016 vs. 36 percent in 2015); and energy (37 percent in 2016 vs. 40 percent in 2015), in the top three with the best reputations for environmental and social responsibility. In comparison, the industries that were ranked lowest, meaning those who were cited least often among the top three best sustainability reputations, are: Leisure services, which include hotels, cruise lines, casinos and restaurants (18 percent in 2016 vs. 17 percent in 2015); transportation, which includes vehicle manufacturers, airlines, rail, infrastructure and logistics (17 percent in 2016 vs. 19 percent in 2015); and manufacturing (16 percent in 2016 vs. 14 percent in 2015).