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’Be good guilt’ lead 9 out 10 Brits to tell little green lies 24.08.07

"Be good guilt" is leading Brits to exaggerate their ethical lifestyles rather than change their behaviour - seven in 10 Brits say being seen to be green is the new way of "keeping up with the Joneses".

A new Norwich Union study shows over half (56%) now consider unethical living as much of a social taboo as drink driving, nine in 10 people admit they tell "little green lies" to pretend to live more ethically.

Three-quarters (76%) say conversations at the school gates and dinner parties are now being taken over by ethical oneupmanship, while nine in ten say they feel compelled to live more ethically.

And the social trend is behind a new syndrome being labelled "Be good guilt" - that is seeing people feel so overloaded by ethical pressure, that they don’t actually know where to start in changing their behaviour.

One in five say they have no idea how to live more ethically, while over half (53%) say they will not change their lifestyles because of a combination of confusion, lack of time, or refusal to be told what to do.

Commenting on the Norwich Union study, psychologist Corinne Sweet said: "We want to be ’good’ but often are too busy, or it seems too complicated, so we cut corners, or ’forget’ altogether, and then feel guilty.

"This can lead people to lie about their environmental actions (or inactions), or even to give up trying altogether, as it all seems too much to pack into our already too busy 24/7 lives. People then feel guilty when friends, family and neighbours seem so much better at being green.

"Spending money is a traditional way of ’Keeping Up with the Joneses’ and is something most of us know how to do. But being green? That’s a lot harder to work out and people are feeling a great deal of anxiety, irritation and fear that what they are doing is not enough or wrong. Their anger can lead them to give up altogether, and then be wracked with green guilt".

Paul Stokes, Norwich Union, who led the study for Norwich Union, said: "We’ve all been victims of ‘Be good guilt’ - where we’ve wanted to behave more ethically, but feel confused about what positive steps will really make a difference. "But behaving more ethically doesn’t mean you need to overhaul your life or invest huge amounts of time or money. Changing where you invest your money, for example, to a fund that supports ethical companies is just one example of a simple step that can make a big difference."

When asked which everyday actions can make the biggest difference to society and the environment, two-thirds (67%) recognise the impact of reducing energy used at home. But just one in 20 (5%) realised investing in companies that support ethical causes would make a difference.

The Norwich Union research also reveals: Four in 10 say ethical pressures have made them consider the environmental impact of their foreign holidays this summer

If given £500 to spend on an ethical purchase, two fifths (41%) would opt for children’s clothing/toys from ethically responsible brands, more than a third (38%) would make a payment into an ethical investment fund. One in five (20%) would donate to charity

Four in 10 (41%) admit they are unlikely to check whether the food or clothes they buy have been ethically produced

The same number (41%) admit to leaving electrical products on standby rather than switching them off and 52% use new supermarket carrier bags, rather than re-using old ones.

Peter Shield

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