If we want to change the world, first we must understand it
In 2021, Epson embarked on its Climate Reality Barometer. It is a global survey designed to capture the attitudes of people — and the actions they take — in response to ongoing and accelerating climate change. Today, it has grown to engage over 30,000 people across 39 global markets. It gives us fascinating insight into how climate change impacts our everyday lives — and how we feel about it.
At the time, a climate reality barometer was a novel idea. While many companies tell the world about their climate positive actions, Epson’s Barometer is very much focused on listening.
This might appear counter-intuitive, but it’s a completely natural position for Epson. Every product we create is informed by a deep understanding of the challenges our customers face and their needs in tackling them. We commit significant resources to this kind of customer discovery: how else could we develop the solutions they need?
So, why should climate change be any different? It is a global challenge — and as a company committed to achieving UN Sustainability Goal 13 — this kind of insight is critical if we are to enrich lives and build a better world. The Climate Reality Barometer brings us this insight — with some surprising revelations.
The COP Generation confounds assumptions
In 2023, we have focused on the attitudes and actions of those born since the first COP in 1995. We have named them the COP Generation — Gen COP for short. Currently aged 29 and younger, they have lived in the shadow of volatile climate change for their whole lives. The Barometer shows that they have some interesting things to teach us.
The first lesson is that assumptions are often wrong. When we first decided to look at the COP Generation in detail, I think most of us believed that we would see climate change natives taking the lead on actions designed to mitigate environmental impacts.
The data, however, suggests something less straightforward: that while there are regional variations, it’s the world’s parents with children under the age of 18 who are in the vanguard of climate positive action. We asked respondents to state which climate positive actions they have already taken: the COP Generation records lower levels of action than parents in 12 of the 14 categories, though it does equal them in terms of switching to an electric car.
The COP Generation: a different perspective
The second lesson is that we should never take anything at face value. While the top line data suggests that the COP Generation is taking less action than others, if we dig a little deeper, we can start to understand the reasons why.
Alongside climate change, political and economic volatility have created an environment that is particularly harsh for younger people.
While impacts are widespread, the global cost of living crisis has hit the COP Generation hard. Starting out in life, they often have smaller incomes than older generations. It can mean that rising food and energy costs, for example, take a far greater proportion of their monthly pay cheque. In many parts of the world the dream of owning their own home — so often taken for granted by previous generations — seems increasingly distant as interest rates spiral upwards.
It opens the possibility that Generation COP might want to act more positively, but simply cannot afford to. Climate positive products often carry a price premium: so, while older generations may be able to absorb the additional cost — of everything from laundry liquid to a vacation — younger people may not.
Further, there is the issue of differing perspectives. We must understand that the COP Generation has never known a world without climate volatility. I entered my 20s in the 1980s and enjoyed what seemed like a relatively benign climate. The COP Generation, who entered their 20s in the 2010s and 2020s, experience a far harsher one. For my generation, an interest rate rise might be ‘everyday life’ and extreme weather a startling exception; for Generation COP, extreme weather is ‘everyday life’ and an interest rate rise the startling exception.
Both factors help us to understand why the COP Generation sees “Rising Prices” (51%) as a greater concern than “Climate Change” (47%), while globally, more people see “Climate Change” (55%) as a critical global issue than “Rising Prices” (53%).
Beyond this, our Barometer reports smaller but still significant groups of people of all ages who simply refuse to act.
As an example, 35% of people have reduced consumption of animal products and a further 33% plan to do so. This is good news, with research from the UN suggesting that livestock makes up 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions. For cultural and other reasons, however, 18% of people state that they “will never” reduce consumption of animal products.
Saying “never” is a strong statement — and while we’re not making judgments about or speculating on the reasons for people’s answers — this answer is seen across all 14 of the climate positive actions covered in the Barometer.
There are powerful lessons here for all businesses as they seek to understand and support individuals in their move towards more climate positive lifestyles.
The Barometer tells us what people expect from companies as they act to tackle climate change. Most want technology solutions that support climate positive living (48%), followed by improvements to the recyclability and reuse of their products (45%).
Looking to the COP Generation, we can see that offering a more climate positive product is not enough: businesses need to create these products so that they are, at the very least, cost neutral and a viable choice for all.
We need to ensure that our education programs understand how the climate crisis appears differently to distinct groups, with messages more specifically tailored to factors such as age, so that familiarity doesn’t numb our responses.
We need to understand that we can leave nobody behind, because denial is a problem for all of us. We must accept that some will never acknowledge climate change, while others will recognize it but still do nothing or will be hindered due to cultural or other factors. Consequently, products should, wherever possible, default to climate positivity so that indifference doesn’t mean inaction.
Epson has reached out to better understand people’s attitudes and actions in response to climate change. As we transition into an indispensable company that uses our efficient, compact and precise technologies to achieve sustainability in a circular economy — we continue to listen, because if we want to change the world, first we must understand it.