OCBC Climate Index finds large gap between sustainability awareness and adoption

The new index finds that Singapore residents have a relatively high understanding of sustainability issues, but this awareness is not reflected in their adoption and advocacy of sustainable habits.

sg climate rally 2019
Singapore's first climate rally in September 2019, organised by SG Climate Rally, gathered close to 2000 people at Singapore Speakers' Corner. Although millennials are huge advocates for climate action, are they walking the talk? Image: Eco-Business

Singapore residents may have a good understanding of sustainability and climate issues, but this knowledge does not necessarily equate to action, the new OCBC Climate Index has found.

The inaugural Climate Index by OCBC Bank in partnership with Eco-Business, launched on Tuesday, measures the current levels of sustainability awareness, action and advocacy among Singapore residents across four themes of urban living: transport, home, food and goods.

Based on the survey results, Singapore residents scored an average of 6.7 out of 10.

Overall, the survey found that although Singapore residents have a good grasp of environmental issues (8.3), they fell short in the adoption category (6.5), and even fewer were advocates for climate action (5.6). 

The index is an assimilation of results from an online survey sent to a nationally representative demographic of 2,000 Singapore residents aged 18 to 65 who responded to 106 questions relating to the four themes from 19 May - 3 June 2021. 

“In line with the push for greater climate action, the OCBC Climate Index gives an indication of where Singaporeans are in terms of our knowledge and lifestyle habits that affect climate change. We hope that the index can raise Singaporeans’ awareness on the carbon emissions driven from human activities and to nudge more environmentally sustainable behavioural change,” said Koh Ching Ching, head of group brand and communications at OCBC Bank.  

Cost and inconvenience were cited as top barriers to adopting climate action, followed by people struggling to maintain sustainable habits. Others felt that the status quo is sufficient and believe that individual action is too small to make an impact. 

This year, the government unveiled the Singapore Green Plan 2030, a nation-wide approach towards sustainable development that encompasses five key areas: city in nature, energy reset, sustainable living, green economy and resilient future. 

The survey found that of the five key areas, Singapore residents ranked ‘sustainable living’ (80 per cent) as the most important, followed by ‘energy reset’ (61 per cent) and ‘city in nature’ (55 per cent), green economy (54 per cent) and resilient future (49 per cent). 

In line with the push for greater climate action, the Climate Index also serves as an educational platform for Singapore residents on climate issues to cultivate positive behavioural change and achive its shared national targets on sustainability.

“We hope that these findings can help to inform policy and business decisions for consumer behaviour. For example, the top reasons cited for the lack of climate action were cost and inconvenience—can we think about integrating these sustainable behaviours into our system so it’s designed into our infrastructure in the first place?” commented Jessica Cheam, founder and managing director of Eco-Business, at a media conference for the launch of the OCBC Climate Index.

The average Singapore resident generates over 8,000 kg of carbon emissions annually according to the SP Group’s My Carbon Footprint calculator, more than twice the world’s average and far above the target to maintain a sustainable footprint. 

Across all four themes, Singapore residents ranked the lowest in terms of climate action in the ‘food’ theme.  Of the respondents who eat meat, 76 per cent are aware that their choice of food has a huge impact on the environment, yet almost half of them consume red meat more than twice a week, on average. 

Other questions under this theme included food wastage, and purchasing locally sourced or regional produce, which respondents also scored relatively poorly on. 

Food waste is one of the biggest waste streams in Singapore and the amount of food waste generated has grown by around 20 per cent over the past 10 years, according to government statistics. 

Differences across generations 

The survey found that although millennials (aged 25-40 years old) are among the most knowledgeable and vocal generation in advocating for climate action, they are not necessarily walking the talk.

Although millennials outperformed the national average on the ‘awareness’ and ‘advocacy’ pillars, they had the lowest average ‘adoption’ scores. 

In addition, millennials comprised the highest proportion of Singapore residents to regularly drive a car, with a higher likelihood of owning larger cars above 1,600cc.

Lifestyle habits for this demographic might be the hardest to change, as millennials are most likely to have kids aged 12 and below, and elderly parents to ferry around. As the wealthiest generation so far, the additional cost of taking private transport is currently not top of mind for millennials’ lifestyle habits. 

Nearly 70 per cent of millennials with young children cited ‘inconvenience’ as the top reason for not choosing sustainable practices.

On the other hand, baby boomers (above 57 years old) were the top performers under the ‘awareness’ and ‘adoption’ pillars. Survey findings suggest that they are more likely to adopt sustainable and economical habits such as travelling by public transport and saving on electricity and water at home.  

Nearly 80 per cent of respondents in this demographic cited costs as the top reason for not adopting sustainable practices. They are also the least likely to purchase eco-friendly products if they cost more. OCBC Bank suggested that many in this age group are planning to retire or are retired, and keep a closer eye on their budgets. 

Generation Z (aged 18-24 years old) did not fare well in adopting sustainable practices at home, according to the survey findings. For example, Gen Z represent the highest proportion of respondents who use air-conditioning units at home for more than seven hours a day — close to twice the percentage of baby boomers. A possible reason could be because Gen Zs are not yet responsible for household electricity bills and have less understanding of the costs associated with the usage of air-conditioning. 

“At the end of the day, habits die hard and a change of mindset is needed. That’s why educational efforts are really important in this respect. We always talk about the three R’s, reduce, reuse and recycle. I would also encourage everyone to consider an extra three R’s—rethink, refuse and repair,” Cheam said. 

Want to know where you stand on your climate awareness, action and advocacy? Take the OCBC Climate Index now. 

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