More must be done to help Singaporeans make sustainable choices: OCBC climate index

While most Singaporean consumers say they are environmentally conscious, they tend to make purchases based on cost, convenience and preference. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Sustainability has become a buzzword in Singapore, but has not caused consumers to alter their habits to promote it, according to the findings of a local environmental index.

While most Singaporean consumers say they are environmentally conscious, they tend to make purchases based on cost, convenience and preference, found the climate index released on Tuesday (Aug 16) by OCBC Bank and Eco-Business, a media and business intelligence firm.

Sustainability is seen as a bonus or a happy consequence of a purchasing choice that made sense in the first place, the index also found.

The index, which was first launched last year, hopes to raise awareness about environmental issues, nudge people towards more sustainable behaviour and influence policymakers.

This year, after surveying 2,169 Singaporeans between the ages of 18 and 65, the index came up at a national average of 6.7 out of 10.

The respondents were evaluated on their level of awareness regarding environmental issues, how many sustainable practices they have adopted, and how much they advocated for sustainable change.

Based on the index, OCBC said that while most Singaporeans are conscious of almost all environmental issues, they make few sustainable choices on average and advocate for sustainability even more selectively.

Also, Singaporeans scored exactly the same as last year, with little progress despite more investment in environmental awareness, said Mr Jason Boh, vice-president of Market Research at OCBC Bank.

Some environmentally harmful choices were traced to the increased use of air conditioning, the resumption of travel as the Covid-19 pandemic abates, and consumerism as the economy recovers.

Additionally, Gen-Z citizens chose to eat unsustainably owing to difficulty in changing their diets and a belief that their choices made little environmental difference. They also spent more on non-essential products.

However, there are some encouraging findings, said Mr Boh.

Those aged between 58 and 65 advocated for more climate action this year due to their increased comfort with digital tools acquired during the pandemic.

Also, with more in that age group retiring, their lifestyles slow down and become more environmentally friendly, such as them choosing to take public transport more often.

Additionally, citizens between the ages of 18 and 25 are also redirecting their finances into buying second-hand products, which are increasingly seen as legitimate, cheap and clean.

Ms Jessica Cheam, founder and managing director of Eco-Business, said: "Mainstreaming sustainability-driven consumer behaviour takes time, and many factors such as cost, convenience and infrastructure heavily impact personal decisions."

While some of the results can be discouraging, Ms Cheam said that the index ultimately aims to provide insight into the factors behind consumer decisions and what needs to be done to create a better environment for the right choices.

Ms Cheam added that through a better understanding of people's behaviour, society can change for the better and never again return to old, unsustainable habits.

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