The British Science Association has today released survey results to coincide with the start of British Science Week (6-15 March 2020‎), which show that while documentaries like Blue Planet are putting environmental issues front of mind, many of us are still confused about how we can make a positive impact, with almost 2 in 5 of the survey respondents unsure where to start when it comes to living more sustainably.

It comes as the British Science Association (BSA) hopes to inspire as many people as possible to participate in a large-scale citizen science project to tackle habitat loss for vulnerable animals as part of British Science Week. With only half (53%) of the public feeling there are things they can do as an individual to help environmental sustainability, we want to empower the public to realise that collective action can amount to real change. Environmental issues are affecting people around the world, including the UK where flooding recently swept parts of the country.

The research, which was conducted in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), shows that women seem to be leading the charge in taking the first steps towards positive action. They are 35% more likely than men to re-use products where possible and buy fewer new items. Women are also 44% more likely to buy recycled products, and 66% more likely than men to buy clothes second-hand or from sustainable brands.

According to the data, sustainable change is already happening when it comes to plastics – with two thirds (66%) of respondents avoiding plastic straws and 63% opting out of plastic coffee cups. Similarly, over half (54%) are making a conscious decision to buy fewer items and re-using where possible, and 40% are using less paper. However, the impact that palm oil is having on the environment has made less of a mark on the national consciousness, with 69% not checking their household products, such as shampoo or soap, to see if they have been produced sustainably. WWF says that palm oil is in close to 50% of the packaged products we find in supermarkets, from food to cosmetics. When grown unsustainably, palm oil production is a major driver of deforestation and habitat loss. 

While the majority of those surveyed agree that environmental sustainability is a bigger issue now than it was 10 years ago (67%), what’s driving this seems to be dependent on age, with younger people more likely to be influenced by the rise in activism from campaigns like Greta Thunberg’s school strike for the climate (47%) and by advertising campaigns, like Iceland's now infamous Rang-tan Christmas advert (44%). Whereas, the older generation are more likely to be influenced by documentaries and other media reporting (58%).

However, not everyone is aware of some of the biggest issues. 4 in 5 (80%) respondents don’t think deforestation should be considered a priority for the climate crisis, when compared to other environmental issues such as overpopulation, despite the fact it is the cause of around 10% of global warming.


WWF top swaps to make a difference

  • Pack biodegradable glitter when hitting festivals this summer – the standard sort is made from microplastics that can eventually end up in our food chain
  • Carry your own reusable bottle
  • Say no to plastic cutlery
  • Ditch the cling wrap – or use alternatives like the Beeswax Wraps. Made using 100% cotton, Pine Resin, Jojoba Oil and local Beeswax they are 100% natural and environmentally friendly
  • Use loose leaf tea with a tea strainer instead of teabags that are sealed with plastic. Or give plastic free tea Pukka Tea and Teapigs a go!


Katherine Mathieson, Chief Executive at the British Science Association said: “The whole nation can get involved in this year’s British Science Week and know they’re making a difference to a global issue that can otherwise seem tricky to tackle. We’re excited to see large scales of people jump at the opportunity to save and protect spider monkeys on the other side of the world. We encourage everyone to get involved to help us advance this exciting, ingenious technology.

Mike Barrett, Executive Director of Science and Conservation, at WWF said: “It's clear that our planet is under threat like never before and while this survey may indicate that a majority of people believe environmental sustainability is high on the agenda, many are still unaware of the scale of this challenge or what to do. But there is still time. We are the first generation to know we are destroying the world, and the last that can do anything about it.

We know what the threats are, and that participating in crowdsourced science, making small changes in your lifestyle or calling on your local MP to act and protect nature, can all help reverse damage and restore our planet.”

Visit the Spotting Spider Monkeys webpage to learn more about our Zooniverse citizen scientist project.