July 2010: Anticipate resistance to your low-carbon initiative from ‘critical older men’

By , December 27, 2010 11:06 pm

July 2010, Market Intelligence Article for Sustainable Business Magazine, reproduced with permission.

Peter Winters, President, Haddock Research & Branding

Double-click on the offprint below to see it in a larger size.

Internationally, those who oppose government support for green initiatives tend to be older men. The similarity of this pattern between countries suggests that this goes beyond a national, cultural phenomenon – and one hypothesis is that it is to do with the more anti-social values of older men. For cleantech businesses, it is important to understand this demographic since investment risk in cleantech is so closely tied to the political risk of whether specific government green policies get implemented.

‘Why are virtually all climate “sceptics” men?’, was the question posed in a recent article[1] by Richard Black, environment correspondent for the BBC. As part of his discussion he quoted polling evidence from a study produced jointly by the Yale Project on Climate Change and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication[2], which categorised Americans into six groups according to how they felt about climate change; from “Alarmed” through to “Dismissive” – and amongst the Dismissive, almost two-thirds were men (63%). These men are profiled as being:

‘More likely than average to be high income, well-educated, white men… much more likely to be very conservative Republicans… strongly endorse individualistic values, opposing any form of government intervention, anti-egalitarian, and almost universally prefer economic growth over environmental protection …”

Using a similar approach, our Environmental Choices data strongly supports these findings, and on an international basis.  Within the survey we asked a number of questions about how much people agreed with government initiatives to support a green economy – to do with investment, regulation and taxation. Using cluster analysis, we categorised people into six groups according to how supportive they were of these various measures; from “Supporters” (who supported all these types of green measure) through to “Opposers” (who opposed them all). The study was done in Canada and the USA as well as England; and it was quite remarkable how similar the results were for each country. In each country, both the Supporters and Opposers were predominately male, with the four ‘middle groups’ being predominately female. Supporters are more likely to be younger men (aged 18-34), whilst Opposers are more likely to be older men, especially aged 55+. In each country, those men profiled as Opposers would very likely be Conservative/Republican voters, or not politically aligned. Opposers represent 10% of both Canadians and English adults, and 15% of Americans.

Richard Black concludes his article pondering why men are more likely to be dismissive of climate change.  It is beyond the scope of our research to provide a robust answer to his question, but the great similarity of the results between countries suggests that this goes beyond a national, cultural phenomenon. One hypothesis is that these views are significantly affected by people’s values. In each country, people’s values do not differ greatly according to some demographics, such as in which region people live, but they do vary greatly by ‘age’ and ‘gender’. In each country, younger adults tend to be more concerned about status-based materialistic values; older women tend to be more content and hospitable whilst middle-aged and older men are more likely to be inhospitable.  Perhaps the inhospitable, unsociable values of older men contribute to their resistance to government green initiatives?

I confess, I had an image of ‘grumpy old men’ when we did this analysis; yet resisted this pejorative term since it would distract from a proper understanding of this demographic. It would be interesting to know what drives older men’s critical thinking; and, as the population gets greyer, whether these attitudes are to do with life-stage, or more a one-off characteristic of the Baby Boomer, and pre-Baby Boomer, generations.

But why does this matter to businesses working in the sustainability sector?

It matters because governments need public support to be able to implement suitable green policies, and these policies are critical for cleantech businesses to thrive.  Investment risk in cleantech is closely tied to the political risk (p8 & 9, pdf)[3] of whether specific government green policies will be implemented. Which of the various climate change and energy bills, if any, will be adopted by the US Senate? How much will the British government support the energy infrastructure required to enable the electric car to be a success?

As Peter McManners described in a column for Sustainable Business[4], the government’s introduction of feed-in tariffs has meant that PV companies are now struggling to cope with demand. Companies such as SolarCentury are actively incorporating information about feed-in tariffs within their marketing[5].

Certainly, each government initiative to support the low-carbon economy should be critically evaluated. However, we should also be aware that there are some people who would be resistant to any type of government support for the green economy. If there is a specific government policy which will support your cleantech business, don’t be surprised if you get some resistance from some critical older men.

[1] COP15: Climate ‘scepticism’ and questions about sex, BBC, Richard Black, 15 December 2009, http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/richardblack/2009/12/cop15_questions_about_sex.html

[2] Global Warming’s Six Americas; An Audience Segmentation Analysis, By Anthony Leiserowitz, Edward Maibach, Andrew Light; May 19, 2009 – http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/05/6americas.html

[3] See, for example, Black Rock New Energy Investment Trust plc, Half Yearly Financial Report, 30 April 2009 , pages 8 & 9 – http://www.blackrock.co.uk/content/groups/uksite/documents/literature/blk047520.pdf

[4] Thinking ahead will help an industry to survive and thrive, Peter McManners, Sustainable Business, May 2010

[5] http://www.solarcentury.co.uk/News/Solarcentury-News/Farmers-earn-extra-income-with-solar-buildings

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