Canadian participation in an environmentally active lifestyle

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Avani Babooram, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics

Canadians are often exposed to messages about the environment ranging from climate change to resource scarcity, and many Canadians are making the decision to adopt behaviours aimed at reducing, reusing, and recycling. In this study, data on household behaviours are analysed to see how these decisions translate into action on the part of households.

This study focuses on six environmental behaviours at the household level: use of reduced volume toilets; use of low-flow showerheads; use of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL); recycling; composting; and lowering temperatures.1 Households that practiced four to six behaviours were considered very active. Those who engaged in two to three behaviours were moderately active, while those who adopted zero or one behaviour were considered less active.

In 2006, almost half of Canadian households were very active across this range of environmental behaviours (45%). Despite the possible financial and access challenges faced by lower income families and apartment dwellers with respect to environmental behaviour, 35% of households with incomes of $28,000 or less were very active. In the same vein, 22% of renters were also very active. Of income, education and dwelling tenure, dwelling tenure was most strongly associated with a household being very active (see textbox for definitions).

What you should know about this study

The Households and the Environment Survey (HES) collects information on a variety of environmental themes. This study uses the 2006 HES environmental and demographic data to identify what types of households are more environmentally active than others.

Definitions

Household composition refers to the age structure of the household. Children are defined as anyone under the age of 18. Working-age householders range from 18 to 64 years of age. Seniors are defined as anyone aged 65 or over.

Income is defined as total annual household income, before tax.

Education refers to the highest level of education completed by any member of the household.

Dwellings are separated into the following groups: apartments; multi-units which include townhouses, row homes and duplexes; and single-detached dwellings.

Dwelling tenure refers to whether a dwelling is owned or rented.

Recycling is defined as use of either paper, plastic, metal or glass recycling services by households with access to these services.

Lowering temperatures refers to programmable or manual thermostats that are set at a lower temperature when the household is asleep than when they are awake, during the heating season.

Methodology

Only households with access to at least one form of recycling, as well as access to the dwelling thermostat were included in the analysis. Households that answered "don't know" or "refusal" were not counted in the numerator, but they were included in the denominator.

Logistic regression was used to determine the strength of the associations between the independent and dependent variables, expressed in terms of odds ratios. Ninety-five percent confidence intervals were calculated for all estimates using the bootstrap weights.

A correlation matrix was used to determine the relationship between the independent variables, and decisions to exclude some independent variables from the model were based on the value of the correlation coefficients.

Recycling is the most common behaviour
Households in Prince Edward Island were the most active
Home owners are more likely to practice four or more environmental behaviours than renters
The proportion of very active households increases with income and education
Household composition not related to activity level
Summary

Recycling is the most common behaviour

Of the six behaviours, the participation rate2 for recycling was highest (Table 1), even though recycling requires ongoing effort. Sustained or repetitive behaviours such as recycling can be more difficult to adopt than single actions such as installing reduced volume toilets, because they require a longer term commitment to action.3 Despite requiring on-going effort, 97% of Canadian households with access to recycling made use of this service.4

Table 1 Household participation rates for environmental behaviours, by province, 2006

Table 1
Household participation rates for environmental behaviours, by province, 2006

Composting was the least common behaviour—30% of households composted in 2006. The lower participation rate may be a result of the perceived difficulty of composting, or possibly due to a lack of basic knowledge on how to compost.5

Households in Prince Edward Island were the most active

The vast majority of Canadian households were either very active or moderately active. Overall, 45% of households were very active, 45% were moderately active, and only 10% were less active (Chart 1).

Chart 1 Prince Edward Island has the highest proportion of very active households, 2006

Chart 1
Prince Edward Island has the highest proportion of very active households, 2006

Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.) was the most active province, with close to two-thirds of its households (64%) participating in four or more environmental activities (Chart 1). That is almost twice the "very active" participation rates of Quebec and Manitoba, the provinces with the lowest proportion of very active households.

P.E.I. had the highest participation rate for composting and one of the highest recycling rates.6 However, P.E.I had one of the lowest participation rates for reduced volume toilets, compared to the other provinces (Table 1).

While Quebec 's recycling rate was fairly high at 95%, it had below Canada-level participation rates for CFL, reduced volume toilets and composting. Meanwhile, the participation rates for Manitoba, the province with the highest proportion of less active households, were below the Canada level participation rates for most behaviours7 (Table 1).

Home owners are more likely to practice four or more environmental behaviours than renters

Apartment dwellers were less likely to be very active than non–apartment dwellers (Table 2). There is a strong relationship between dwelling type and dwelling tenure—the majority of apartment dwellers are renters and the majority of those in single–detached dwellings own their residence.

Table 2 Environmental activity level, by dwelling type, 2006

Table 2
Environmental activity level, by dwelling type, 2006

Owners were more likely to be very active than renters (Chart 2). Of income, education and dwelling tenure, dwelling tenure was the variable most strongly associated with being very active. Home owners had more than three times higher odds8 of being very active than renters.

Chart 2 Owners are more likely to be very active than renters, 2006

Chart 2
Owners are more likely to be very active than renters, 2006

Renters may have less freedom to change fixtures such as toilets and showerheads. Since the majority of apartment dwellers rent their homes,9 this may partly explain their lower activity levels relative to other housing types. However, 22% of renters still managed to engage in four or more activities (Chart 2).

The proportion of very active households increases with income and education

Income and education are important indicators of whether a household will own or rent their home, and these factors provide some indication as to why renters were more likely to be less active than owners. On average, Canadians with higher levels of education will also have higher incomes,10 and household income affects dwelling tenure.11

Income and education have also been linked to environmental behaviour in previous research. For example, according to Kollmuss and Agyeman, persons with higher incomes have the extra resources to engage in activities beyond meeting their basic needs, and persons with higher levels of education have more opportunity to gain knowledge about environmental issues.12

Odds ratios

Odds ratios can be used to quantify the association between an explanatory variable (X) and a dichotomous outcome (Y).

In this study, the explanatory variables are dwelling tenure, income and education. The outcome of interest is a household being very active (Y=1). If the household is not very active, then Y=0.

An odds ratio is generated for each category within an explanatory variable, with one category selected as the "reference category" so that each odds ratio within the variable is interpreted relative to the reference category.

Odds ratio = odds for Xtarget/odds for Xreference =

(probability Y = 1 for Xtarget/probability Y = 0 for Xtarget)

(probability Y = 1 for Xreference/probability Y = 0 for Xreference)

If the odds ratio > 1, the odds of the event are higher for the target group.

If the odds ratio < 1, the odds of the event are higher for the reference group.

The higher the income bracket, the higher the proportion of very active households (Chart 3). Sixty percent of households with incomes greater than $100,000 were very active, compared to 35% of households with incomes of $28,000 or less.

Chart 3 The proportion of very active households increases with income, 2006

Chart 3
The proportion of very active households increases with income, 2006

While income was associated with a household practicing four or more environmental behaviours, increasing income did not increase the odds of being very active as much as home ownership. In fact, the odds of a household with an income greater than $100,000 being very active were only one and a half times those of a household in the lowest income group.

As with income, the proportion of households that were very environmentally active increased with increasing education (Chart 4). Half of households where at least one member had completed university were very active, while just over one-third (34%) of households where no one had completed high school practiced four or more behaviours.

Chart 4 The proportion of very active households increases with education, 2006

Chart 4
The proportion of very active households increases with education, 2006

The major difference was between households where at least one person had some post-secondary education compared to households where the highest level of education was high school or less. The odds of a household being very active were 1.2 times higher for households where at least one member had some post-secondary education compared to households where the highest level of completed education was high school or less.

Household composition not related to activity level

According to Kollmuss and Agyeman, people with more free time tend to participate in more environmental activities as they have the time to dedicate to social issues.13 Families with children or aging seniors to care for tend to have less free time than other household types14 and should be less likely to be very environmentally active.

However, results from the Households and the Environment Survey showed that the relationship observed between activity level and household composition was influenced by housing type, rather than household composition.

Summary

The vast majority of Canadian households were either moderately or very active with respect to environmental behaviour. Dwelling tenure was the variable most strongly associated with very active households, while income and education were somewhat less correlated with being "very active."

Regardless of differences in these demographic factors, 45% of Canadian households were very environmentally active. These results indicate that despite challenges with respect to income, education, dwelling type and dwelling tenure, Canadians have adopted environmental behaviours.


Notes:

  1. These behaviours were selected because they are accessible to a wide range of the Canadian population, and because they represent a variety of environmental issues: energy conservation, water conservation and waste reduction.
  2. Participation rates do not necessarily reflect a choice on the part of the household. For example, recycling is mandatory in some municipalities, while fixtures such as reduced volume toilets may be required in new construction in some areas of the country.
  3. Doug McKenzie-Mohr, 2000, "Promoting sustainable behaviour: An introduction to community-based, social marketing," Journal of Social Sciences, Vol. 56, no. 3: 543 to 554.
  4. Avani Babooram and Jennie Wang, 2007, "Recycling in Canada," EnviroStats, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 16-002-X.
  5. Doug McKenzie-Mohr, 2000, "Promoting sustainable behaviour: An introduction to community-based, social marketing," Journal of Social Sciences, Vol. 56, no. 3: 543 to 554.
  6. Recycling is mandatory in P.E.I.
  7. The Manitoba participation rates were significantly lower than the Canada participation rates for all behaviours except for use of reduced volume toilets.
  8. Odds ratios can be used to quantify the association between an explanatory variable (X) and a dichotomous outcome (Y). See textbox "Odds ratios" for more information.
  9. Statistics Canada, 2007, 2006 Census of Population, Catalogue no. 97-554-XCB2006026.
  10. Statistics Canada, 2006, Report of the Pan-Canadian Education Indicators Program, 2005, Catalogue no. 81-582-X.
  11. Statistics Canada, 2006, "Measuring housing affordability," Perspectives on Labour and Income, Catalogue no. 75-001-X, November 2006, Vol. 11, no. 11.
  12. Anja Kollmuss and Julian Agyeman, 2002, "Mind the gap: Why do people act environmentally and what are the barriers to pro-environmental behaviour?," Environmental Education and Research , Vol. 8, no. 3: 239 to 260.
  13. Anja Kollmuss and Julian Agyeman, 2002, "Mind the gap: Why do people act environmentally and what are the barriers to pro-environmental behaviour?," Environmental Education and Research , Vol. 8, no. 3: 239 to 260.
  14. Robert Goodin, et al., 2005, "The time-pressure illusion: discretionary time vs. free time," Social Indicators Research, Vol. 73: 43 to 70.
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