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Behavior Change
80% of Brits Would Give Up Meat Over Their Car to Help the Environment

2018 has already seen a number of environmentally conscious trends — such as a switch to electric vehicles and plant-based diets — make the headlines.

2018 has already seen a number of environmentally conscious trends — such as a switch to electric vehicles and plant-based diets — make the headlines. But which of these trends will make the biggest difference? The latest research from — supported by Gresham College professor Carolyn Roberts — reveals which changes the UK public are making in the name of the environment, and their associated impacts.

Car vs cow

According to the research, over three-and-a-half million (7 percent) UK residents currently identify as vegan and over seven million (14 percent) have switched to vegetarianism to help decrease their carbon footprint. The number who have adopted hybrid and electric vehicles already is somewhat smaller – with just under 800,000 hybrid cars (4 percent) and over one-and-a-half million electric cars (2 percent) currently on the road. With 16 percent of drivers saying they will make the electric/hybrid switch in the next two years, numbers of “green” vehicles on the road could rise considerably to over eight million. In ten years, it could easily be a majority of car purchases.

With both trends on the rise, particularly amongst the more environmentally conscious public, there remains debate over which is more likely to become the mass-norm. It seems that if Brits were faced with the choice between the two, vegetarianism’s current dominance would continue, with less than one in five (18 percent) saying they would sacrifice their car so they could keep up their carnivore ways. Conversely, around half (47 percent) would be happy to give up meat if it meant they could keep on travelling via car.

According to Professor Roberts, the first Frank Jackson Professor of the Environment at Gresham College, in the battle to save the environment we could be better off passing on our steak and burgers than taking the bus.

“Environmental issues continue to rise up the national agenda. However, and quite naturally, the desire for change does not always translate into genuine action, as other priorities can overwhelm many of us, particularly those in with demanding jobs and families,” she said. “For example, giving up driving may be practically impossible for many of us with work to get to and a family to support. The good news is that more practical changes, such as a shift in diet, could be a superior solution to having a positive impact on the environment.

“From farm to fork and beyond, food accounts for about 20 percent of all of our greenhouse gas emissions,” Professor Roberts continued. “Estimates suggest that if all of our meat eaters switched to a vegan diet, it would roughly halve total greenhouse gas emissions associated with food1. On balance, if greenhouse gases were the only consideration, then switching to a low- or no-meat diet could be of a greater benefit to the environment, and specifically the battle against climate change. But moving away from petrol and diesel cars could have many other advantages, including reducing air pollution, noise and congestion in cities. It’s never that simple.”


From boycotting plastic products to embracing LED lighting, the majority of Brits - 64 percent - are now making conscious decisions to consider the environment. Popular gestures include making homes more energy-efficient (48 percent) and recycling (68 percent). Following Sir David Attenborough’s thought-provoking TV explorations of plastic-ridden oceans, nearly half of us have also taken the leap and boycotted plastic bags (47 percent). Here are the top 10 most popular environmentally friendly behaviors in the UK:

  1. Regularly sorting waste for recycling (68 percent)
  2. Generally being more conscious of household waste (64 percent)
  3. Switching to showers, rather than baths / power showers (53 percent)
  4. Reducing use of single-use plastic packaging (50 percent)
  5. Making homes more energy-efficient (48 percent)
  6. Boycotting plastic carrier bags (47 percent)
  7. Switching home lights to LEDs (43 percent)
  8. Using reusable coffee cup and / or water bottles (43 percent)
  9. Using a compost bin (40 percent)
  10. Purchasing a new mobile phone less frequently (39 percent)

The public are beginning to develop a savvy knowledge on what could have a positive impact on our planet. For example, home energy efficiency is considered important by 82 percent of those polled, which Professor Roberts says is a positive if unfashionable signal, as it demonstrates an understanding of the genuine significance of this issue.

1. Scarborough et al, Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK Climatic Change July 2014, Volume 125, Issue 2, pp 179–192