GHD Survey Reveals That Fewer Than Half of Consumers in the U.S. and Canada Believe Governments Are Meeting Their Responsibilities to Achieve Net Zero by 2050

By | 2021-04-29

SAN FRANCISCO – A survey by GHD, one of the world’s leading professional services companies, has found that only 42% of U.S. and 47% of Canadian consumers believe governments are meeting their responsibilities to achieve net zero by 2050. There is also a low level of confidence in society (43% U.S./41% Canada) and businesses (42% U.S./38% Canada) to meet this goal.

With so much societal upheaval having occurred since the start of the pandemic, GHD surveyed over 3,000 people across the U.S. and Canada as part of a global survey to assess how changing attitudes and behaviors will reshape the energy world.

“The global shutdown has changed consumers’ environmental consciousness and puts their demand for greener lifestyle choices – and the clean energy transition already underway – into overdrive. If we are to make a successful shift to net zero, it is crucial the public and private sectors work together with consumers to shape a joint vision for how our world needs to operate. The more we commit to the transition and invest in greener technologies and lifestyles, the more momentum will build,” said Dr. Tej Gidda, Future Energy Global Leader at GHD.

The Electric Vehicle Revolution Is Supercharging

Consumers across North America are open and enthusiastic about embracing electric vehicles (EVs) as part of the global energy transition. The survey found:

  • 16% of U.S. respondents and 7% of Canadian respondents already drive a hybrid/plug-in hybrid or fully electric vehicle.
  • That number is expected to grow, with nearly half of Americans (45%) and Canadians (46%) considering an EV purchase in the next five years.

However, one of the biggest barriers to increased EV uptake is the concern about the electric charging infrastructure needed to support widespread adoption.

  • 39% of U.S. respondents are concerned they will not be able to access reliable charging infrastructure locally and 28% are worried they will not be able to install a charger at home.
  • Amongst Canadians, that concern is even greater, with 42% concerned about access to local charging infrastructure and 35% apprehensive about their ability to install a charger at home.

“With 75% of U.S. and 71% of Canadian respondents saying they’ll travel by car the same amount or more as before the pandemic, increasing the use of EVs will be critical to helping lower transportation emissions,” commented Maria Lehman, GHD’s U.S. Infrastructure Leader. “President Biden’s American Jobs Plan calls for a $174 billion investment in EVs and charging infrastructure, and in the past year, the Canadian government and auto manufacturers have announced billions of dollars of stimulus investments to transition to EVs. While this is an important step, further EV adoption will take continued partnerships and radical collaboration between industry and government in both countries.”

Going Green: Consumers Are Focused on Sustainability

The pandemic has made consumers more aware of the environment. As a result, they’re willing to make changes to live a more sustainable life and expect businesses and governments to do the same. Survey results found:

  • Consumers have become more aware of the environment than they were pre-pandemic (59% U.S./57% Canada), with 86% of Americans and 87% of Canadians agreeing that we all have a responsibility to help the planet become more sustainable.
  • Respondents in the U.S. (56%) and Canada (55%) are looking for their local government to prioritize greener public transportation over personal transportation investments.
  • They also have high expectations for the brands they support, with 64% of respondents in the U.S. and 67% in Canada saying green issues will be an important consideration when determining which brands to buy goods/services from following the pandemic.

The survey also found both U.S. and Canadian residents have considered moving homes due to the pandemic.

The Future of Work

As a result of the pandemic, 78% of American and 82% of Canadian respondents believe their daily habits will change over the long term. This includes how they work and live – which will ultimately change the energy landscape.

  • Going forward, 37% of U.S. and 36% of Canadian respondents expect to work from home more than they did before the pandemic.
  • Residents of both countries expect to spend an average of three hours or more online each day.
  • 30% of Americans and 15% of Canadians surveyed said their employer’s green credentials impacted their decision about whether to become an employee and would consider those factors when choosing a future employer.

“The shifting workplace dynamics will permanently change how we think about everything – from transportation and digital infrastructure to how we configure our cities and office spaces,” said Greg Carli, Sustainability, Resilience & ESG Advisory Leader at GHD. “These changes will significantly impact how energy is consumed and distributed over a 24-hour period to respond to growing requirements for lighting and consuming more data at home, as well as supporting domestic cooling systems in the summer and heating poorly insulated homes every day throughout the colder months. The challenge for businesses and governments will be to quickly adapt and transition to a re-imagined work and energy model that sustainably meets these new needs.”

Each of these changes will have a sizeable impact on the way our society consumes energy – from increasing renewable energy to mitigate the environmental impact of rapidly growing electricity consumption to ensuring the right EV charging infrastructure is available to those who need it. A great deal of work and investment is required to meet our net zero carbon obligations by 2050.

As highlighted by the relatively low confidence scores given by the wider public, governments, businesses, and consumers now need to commit to the transition and use the hiatus of 2020 as a springboard to a cleaner energy future. This means not merely putting strategies in place but acting on them quickly.

GHD’s whitepaper on the survey findings, entitled “The World of Energy Post-COVID,” can be found here.


The survey was conducted among 8,041 consumers within the U.K., US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. At an overall level, results are accurate to ± 1.1% at 95% confidence limits, assuming a result of 50%. The interviews were conducted online by Sapio Research in February 2021 using an email invitation and an online survey.

About GHD:

GHD is a leading professional services company operating in the global markets of water, energy and resources, environment, property and buildings, and transportation. Committed to a vision to make water, energy and urbanization sustainable for generations to come, GHD delivers engineering, architecture, environmental and construction solutions to public and private sector clients. Established in 1928 and privately owned by its people, GHD’s network of 10,000+ specialists are connected across 200 offices located in five continents and the Pacific region.

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