Between desire and reality: obstacles to sustainable living in Germany

Circular economy study on environmental awareness and behavior

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What is behind the much-used buzzword sustainability: How environmentally friendly does Germany live - and why? Kleinanzeigen examined these and other questions in a study with scientific support from the Wuppertal Institute. Across all federal states and age groups, the results show that the desire for a sustainable life is often greater than the reality.

Dreilinden/Berlin/Wuppertal, November 16, 2023: Around two thirds (65%) of people with a positive environmental attitude only behave in an environmentally conscious manner occasionally, rarely or never. This was the result of the Circular Economy Study conducted by Kleinanzeigen with scientific support from the Wuppertal Institute. The gap between society's environmental awareness and the corresponding behavior is called the 'Attitude Behavior Gap'. But where does this gap come from? "Many people are motivated to live sustainably. But it is often not made easy for them because the hurdles are too high," says Dr. Kathleen Jacobs, Senior Researcher in the Material Cycles Research Unit in the Circular Economy Department at the Wuppertal Institute.

These hurdles are also evident in the classified ad study. According to the survey, more than half of respondents (52%) have difficulties assessing whether sustainability information is trustworthy. For almost as many (45%), it is difficult to find out whether a product has been manufactured sustainably. "In addition, there is a veritable flood of labels for some products such as food, which tends to cause confusion and a lack of understanding among consumers, while there is often a lack of sustainability labels for other products such as electrical appliances," adds the researcher.

However, the relevance of the topic has also changed. Four out of ten respondents (41%) believe that sustainability has become more important over the past two years. For ten percent, the opposite has happened. Opinions diverge most clearly among Generation Z: 43% feel that sustainability has become more important, while for around one fifth (19%) the trend has gone in the opposite direction.

Animal welfare, fear of the future

Most people cited the preservation of biodiversity (79%) and animal welfare (77%) as reasons for living sustainably. These aspects are particularly important to respondents from the boomer generation (born between 1946 and 1964), with 84% and 80% agreeing respectively. Their own well-being (79%) and that of their children and grandchildren (80%) also play an important role, while economic growth (56%) and social expectations (21%) are less important. Generations Y (born between 1981 and 1996) and Z (born between 1997 and 2012) are more concerned about the future and therefore live sustainably (Y: 55%, Z: 48%). In addition, recent extreme weather events have contributed to people wanting to behave more sustainably: Generations Y and Z (44% each) even more than the German average (36%). The strong media presence of the topic is helping around a third of respondents (34%) to change their behavior.

The responsibility of others

When it comes to sustainability, respondents see others as having a duty: the economy (74%) and politics (67%) have a responsibility to do more in this area. Around two thirds (65%) also believe that their fellow human beings should become more sustainable. There seems to be a strong belief in the collective, with 47% agreeing that the efforts of individuals are in vain if others refuse to protect the environment. 26% disagree with this statement. At the same time, however, around half of respondents (46%) disagree with the statement that individuals have no influence on solving environmental problems. Just 28% agreed.

Boomer generation more in favor of speed limits than Generation Z

Respondents from all generations were largely in agreement when it came to projects and issues that are currently being discussed publicly in terms of sustainability and environmental protection. First and foremost the speed limit. Here, 53% of respondents are in favor, 29% against. Within the boomer generation, support (58%) is even higher than in Generation Z (46%). People are just as united on the expansion of rail (72% support) and cycle paths (68% support) as they are on increasing the CO₂ price for companies (42% support) and ending subsidies for fossil fuels (48% support). Respondents were more likely to reject a ban on combustion engines (51%) and the end of freeway expansion (42%).

About the study
The data used is based on an online survey conducted by YouGov Deutschland GmbH, in which 2,454 people took part between 21/08/2022 and 30/08/2023. The results were weighted and are representative of the German population aged 18 and over in terms of gender and age. The "Attitude Behavior Gap" was calculated by the Wuppertal Institute. For the evaluation, the variables "environmental attitude" and "environmental behavior" were formed from a set of questions. From this, an individual attitude and behavior value could be determined for each respondent and then compared.

Kleinanzeigen has created a graphic in the form of a map of Germany from the results of the Circular Economy study at This graphic can be used to draw comparisons with Germany as a whole, but also between the individual federal states.

Note: This article has been translated using a computer system without human intervention. LUMITOS offers these automatic translations to present a wider range of current news. Since this article has been translated with automatic translation, it is possible that it contains errors in vocabulary, syntax or grammar. The original article in German can be found here.

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