The drive to conserve and restore the natural world, particularly by tackling the climate crisis, has been given fresh impetus as people develop a greater appreciation for the environment and step up to help protect it. While the self-transformation trend focuses on the individual level, the sustainability imperative is broader in scope, showing people’s concern for society at large.

The New Biophilia 

Concerns over the state of the planet and its biodiversity remain high despite the dramatic health and economic impacts of the pandemic. Of all the problems facing the world today, our global respondents ranked “protecting the environment” as their top priority. Climate change/extreme weather are not far behind at fourth, sitting above infectious disease and epidemics. This chimes with the research in our “Regeneration Rising” report, which found that 85% of global respondents believe climate change is a global crisis. Considering many scientists believe we are already experiencing the sixth mass species extinction, they are not wrong to be worried. 

It’s a positive for the world that people are not immobilized by fear. Instead, people report being inspired to make personal changes in their own lives in an effort to make a difference and help save the planet.

Sense of Accountability

Overall, we find a quarter of global respondents have recently been inspired to live a simpler life. Those who want to live a simpler life also index high for reducing their carbon footprint and cutting back on time online, which is also linked to carbon reduction; promotional emails alone are responsible for two million tons of CO2 emissions annually in the United Kingdom.

I saw a picture of environmental workers sweating as they sorted nylon bags from a mountain of garbage. I had a great feeling and inspiration - is must start from me - in order to protect our survival and environment.

Chinese respondent, male, Boomer+, Guardian segment

These respondents also index highly for changing their perspective and caring more about mental health. Perhaps this linked concern for wellbeing could be attributed to the recent increase in the number of hours people spend outdoors, which has been correlated with improved mental health. In early 2021, the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health published a study from the United Kingdom in which 88% of respondents reported that they spent more time in natural environments as a result of COVID-19. Alongside many similar studies around the world, the journal has published a considerable body of evidence showing that spending time in and engaging with nature can improve human health and wellbeing.

Being by the sea always helps me feel calm and peaceful, and also brings the idea of endless possibilities and a sense of optimism. It reminds me of just how insignificant we are in the world, but in a good way, and always helps to bring a sense of perspective to everything.

UK respondent, female, gen X, Loyalist segment

Natural Heroes

Our research shows that the number one source of recent inspiration in people’s lives is being outdoors in nature. Related topics also figure significantly. Animals and wildlife are cited by roughly two out of every five American and British respondents, and 30% in China simply point to contemplating the vastness of the universe. There’s a strong pull toward the environment in China, where issues such as pollution and poor air quality are top of mind.4 Nearly half (48%) are inspired by witnessing the destruction/depletion of natural resources or the responding efforts to preserve the environment.  

Other notable sources of inspiration include scientific discovery, which ranks seventh globally across all inspiration sources, and scientists, who rank fifth in terms of inspiring people - only family and friends rank higher. Seen through the lens of climate change, it is the environmentalists, physicists and geologists who will largely be responsible for providing governments and businesses with the technological know-how to create a more sustainable world. Other sustainability heroes featuring in our research are activists who inspire, like Greta Thunberg, who is fighting the cause at a grassroots level, and David Attenborough.

Who would we be without the inspiration of scientists and technologists stretching our limits, solving riddles of the past present and future, pushing us to be better, helping us understand ourselves as individuals, humans, citizens, communities, societies, organisms?

US respondent, female, Boomer+, Guardian segment

People’s preoccupation with nature is so profound it is significantly impacting their style preferences. “Natural” is the strongest visual style globally (44%). This is true across all sources of inspiration in the Art, Design and Entertainment category, as well as the visually-driven sources in the Online category.

Visual Style Preferences image 9
I am inspired by everything beautiful: the environment, nature.

Brazil respondent, female, millennial, Indulger segment

Turning Affinity into Action 

When we drill down further into people’s preferences and filter them through the lens of the three pillars of inspiration - Magnetic, Motivating and Elevating - things get even more interesting. Magnetic and Elevating are particularly relevant for sustainability. Being Magnetic is about leading the way and broadening horizons. People who are inspired by Magnetic sources have a tendency to be drawn toward activism and stand up for their views. They are relatively more inclined to join protests and demonstrations, question authorities that are failing to provide effective strategy, and find creative ways to express their concerns. 

Elevating sources build aspiration and help people realize their ideals, thus improving life in general. People who are sparked by Elevating sources report a change in perspective. They are likely to make individual contributions to climate change by simplifying their own lives and cutting back on spending, hence reducing product miles and waste. They are also more likely to donate to relevant causes and charities.

I am inspired by people who are good at what they do, especially when what they do helps the environment, nature and animals.

UK respondent, female, millennial, Creator segment

A new energized commitment to saving the planet is inspiring a raft of positive outcomes. Some innovative businesses are tapping into this momentum and designing initiatives that facilitate change. Patagonia has launched a campaign called Action Works that helps people sign up to support grassroots projects. Samsung has created a pioneering education arm, Not a School, that runs self-learning courses such as “Turn Climate Anxiety Into Positive Action: How Can Technology Unlock Activism in Everyone?” As outlined in our “Regeneration Rising” report, the more brands like these that can lead the way for people, help raise their aspirations for what we can achieve collectively and turn affinity into action, the more individuals will be inspired to be a part of the sustainability solution.

Key Takeaways 

  • Of all the problems facing the world today, our global respondents ranked “protecting the environment” as their top priority, above the pandemic.
  • A rising appreciation for the Earth is impacting people’s inspiration preferences - being outdoors in nature ranks number one across all sources. 
  • A new energized commitment to saving the planet is inspiring positive action by individuals, most of whom expect businesses to also play their part in solving the problem.

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