Littering is seen as being more embarrassing than cheating on your taxes, according to a new poll of 1,105 Americans. What does this mean?


"Being eco-friendly is no longer considered a fringe activity limited to a small group of hard-core activists or early adopters,” said Suzanne Shelton, CEO of Shelton Group. “Thanks to years of green growth, messaging and new products, the idea of sustainability has finally permeated the American conscience,” she said.


Other results from the survey might also surprise you. According to the Shelton Group, which commissioned the study, littering wasn’t the only eco-unfriendly activity that was looked down upon. Smoking cigarettes and driving a gas guzzler were considered “very embarrassing” to 36 and 26 percent of respondents, respectively. And almost 20 percent of poll respondents would show the same level of shame if they got caught not recycling their plastic bottles, using disposable paper plates, and letting the water run while they were brushing their teeth.


This 20 percent number is important, because previous research has found that "... once 20 percent of the population adopts a behavior, it has reached the tipping point and should grow steadily,” according to Shelton. While change takes time, it is happening — right now. Environmental awareness can be compared to smoking — in 1970, almost 40 percent of Americans smoked. Today the number is below 20 percent, which is a significant behavior change in a relatively short amount of time.


The next question is how to increase those numbers even further. According to a release by the study’s organizers, “The survey examined what would encourage Americans to adopt eco-friendly behaviors even more quickly. Here are the percentages of respondents who said the following would be a “major influence” in changing their behavior to help the environment:

  • A penalty/fee/fine: 48 percent
  • A monetary reward/incentive: 45 percent
  • Learning about the dangers/risks: 44 percent
  • Learning about the benefits/greater good: 38 percent
  • Encouragement from your children, grandchildren, etc.: 30 percent
  • Seeing others you admire making the change: 27 percent
  • Encouragement from friends: 26 percent

What do you think is the best way to get people to change bad behaviors? 


MNN tease photos of trash and No Litter sign via Shutterstock


Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

Littering now as socially unacceptable as smoking
Anti-environmental behavior reaches a tipping point of public disapproval, signaling that the sustainability message has permeated the masses.