Survey Says Americans Feel Most Guilty About Food Waste

Date: August 16, 2012

Source: Shelton Group

A new survey finds that Americans feel most guilty about wasting food and to a less extent about not recycling. The survey, called Eco Pulse, found 39% of 1,013 respondents felt guilty about wasting food and also felt guilty about leaving the lights on (27%), wasting water (27%), failing to unplug chargers for electronics (22%), not recycling (21%) and forgetting to bring reusable bags to the store (20%). "We know that telling people to save the planet does not work. The vast majority of Americans don't care," said Suzanne Shelton, CEO of the Shelton Group, which authored the study and consults organizations on sustainability initiatives.

Food waste in America has grown 50% since 1974, and accounts for more than one-quarter of the total freshwater used and roughly 300 million barrels of oil a year, according to a USDA study. US households typically waste 27% of food available for consumption, costing the average family of four roughly $600 a year. Those rates approach 40% to 50% in commercial establishments such as restaurants and hotels.

August 15, 2012

Americans' Biggest 'Green' Guilt: Wasting Food, Survey Finds

Far Less Guilt Over Using Lawn Chemicals, Not Buying CFLs

Of all the things "un-green" that Americans could feel guilty about - not recycling, forgetting to bring reusable bags to the store, leaving the lights on when leaving a room - they feel the most guilt about wasting food, according to a national survey released today. The finding signals a new avenue for engaging the public in sustainability efforts.

"This is an issue that gets right to the core of who we are as Americans. We were all taught to waste not, want not, and trained that wasting food equals being a bad person," said Suzanne Shelton, founder and CEO of Shelton Group, which conducted the survey. "Yet the average household throws out 470 pounds of food every year, making it the largest component in our nation's landfills. So I'm afraid we have plenty to feel guilty about."

The survey, called Eco Pulse™, found that an astonishing 39 percent of Americans feel guilty about "wasting food." In comparison, only 7 percent felt guilty about "not sticking to an energy efficient thermostat setting," and just 6 percent felt guilty about "using chemical lawn or plant fertilizers."

Food waste in America has grown 50 percent since 1974, and accounts for more than one quarter of the total freshwater used and roughly 300 million barrels of oil a year, according to a government study. In fact, Americans waste about 27 percent of food available for consumption, costing the average family of four roughly $600 a year.

"We all have the best of intentions," Shelton said. "We fill our grocery baskets with healthy meats, fruits and fresh vegetables, with big plans for a week's worth of home-cooked meals. Then, we get swamped at work, or have to get our kids to various activities and we find ourselves picking up a pizza on the way home. By the end of the week, we're throwing out the spoiled food from our refrigerators.

"That doesn't mean we should go back to buying unhealthy frozen dinners and telling our kids to keep eating until their plates are clean," Shelton added. "We just need to be more careful about buying what we need, and using what we buy."

The annual survey, which polled 1,013 Americans and had a margin of error of 3.09 percent, asked: "Which (if any) of these things do you feel guilty about?" Americans' top answers:

  • Wasting food - 39 percent

  • Leaving the lights on when I leave a room - 27 percent

  • Wasting water - 27 percent

  • Not unplugging chargers/electronics when not in use - 22 percent o Not recycling things - 21 percent

  • Forgetting to bring reusable bags to the store - 20 percent

  • Letting the water run while brushing teeth, washing dishes, etc. - 20 percent

Americans' bottom answers:

  • Running the dishwasher or clothes washer when it isn't completely full - 10 percent

  • Not making energy-efficient home improvements - 10 percent

  • Washing clothes or dishes on the hottest setting - 9 percent

  • Not buying CFLs or LEDs - 9 percent

  • Not sticking to an energy-efficient thermostat setting - 7 percent

  • Using chemical lawn or plant fertilizers - 6 percent

  • Not being careful about how long/when I water the grass - 6 percent

Shelton said there clearly is an opportunity here to help people find ways to minimize food waste.

"All of us could be better at shopping, cooking and using up leftovers," Shelton said. "Keeping food from going to waste will benefit our wallets as well as the environment. And we'll all feel a lot less guilty.

Shelton Group's fifth annual Eco Pulse survey also identified a number of other important consumer trends. Among them:

  • Thirty percent of respondents said a company's Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities influenced their green purchase decisions somewhat or very much. In fact, local CSR activities that benefit the consumers' communities, such as stocking a community food pantry, were the strongest type of initiative tested. Consumers said those activities were more believable and could actually motivate them to choose one product over another.

  • An increasing number of Americans say they know a product is green because it's made by a company with a strong environmental reputation. That number has grown from 23 percent in 2010 to 31 percent this year.

  • Asked, "How truthful do you think most companies are when making green claims?" 71 percent of respondents said that companies are often or always truthful, while only 29% said they are rarely or never truthful. This shows that most consumers are at least willing to listen to companies' green claims - and many will give them the benefit of the doubt.

About Shelton Group

Shelton Group is the nation's leading marketing communications firm entirely focused in the energy efficiency and sustainability space.

The firm studies Americans on an ongoing basis and tracks their shifting attitudes and motivations around all things green and uses those insights to help some of America's most progressive companies define and leverage their sustainability stories to gain a market advantage.

Visit to learn more.

For more information, contact:
Mark Pankowski at 301-260-9250
Mittie Rooney at 301-229-1618

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