Environment Tops Priority List for Europe's Business Leaders

Brussels, Belgium - Business leaders across Europe think that protecting the environment should be the number-one priority for global political leaders, according to the results of the 16th annual UPS Europe Business Monitor.

When asked which issues should be the highest on global political leaders’ list of priorities, 45% of Europe’s top business executives agreed on environmental protection, followed by 40% mentioning sustaining economic growth.

Addressing environmental concerns received overwhelming support from managers in France (64%), where the issue registered 19 points more than the European average. At the other end of the scale, respondents in the Netherlands (28%) are the least likely to prioritise environmental protection. Instead, with 48%, business leaders there prioritise sustaining economic growth, also top priority for business leaders in Spain (47%).

Notwithstanding the sometimes precarious Russian gas supply to Europe and the volatile situation in the Middle East, managers in Germany were the only ones to rank energy security as the foremost global political issue (43%). And, although energy security came third on the list of global priorities for Europe’s business leaders overall (33%), it is ranked similarly to reducing world poverty (32%), reducing wars & global conflicts, fighting terrorism (both at 31%) and promoting education (29%).

In line with their concern for protecting the environment, Europe’s business leaders dismiss fossil fuels in favour of renewable energy, with six in ten respondents (59%) stating that the continent should stake its future on sources such as wind, hydrogen and solar power. Domestically generated nuclear power is seen as the next best solution, earning the support of a third (32%). A mere 3% thought Europe should continue burning domestic fossil fuels, whilst only 4% and 1% respectively bank on Russian natural gas and Middle Eastern oil to guarantee their future energy supplies.

Business leaders in Spain are the biggest supporters of renewable energy in Europe, with 68% there backing the idea. It was also the most popular choice for UK respondents at 47%, however this was the lowest figure out of all seven countries surveyed. Senior executives in Belgium are the most likely in Europe (41%) to consider domestic nuclear energy the best solution whereas only 22% of managers in Germany support this option, the lowest level registered in Europe.

Europe’s business leaders clearly consider protecting the environment to be the key policy issue of the moment: as well as giving it top political priority, a substantial 57% also consider it to be the issue that most divides the EU and the US. Protecting the environment is seen as the biggest transatlantic headache by respondents in all countries surveyed except the Netherlands, where 46% felt that fighting terrorism was the most divisive issue. Foreign policy issues are conversely considered the second most divisive on average by business leaders across Europe, with reducing wars and global conflicts and fighting terrorism cited by one in four (41% & 40% respectively) as troubling the waters between Brussels and Washington

When it comes to sourcing reliable information about the condition of the global environment, business executives in Europe overwhelmingly trust academic sources over other stakeholder groups. Fifty-six percent of respondents most trust university scientists and researchers to provide reliable information about the environment, well ahead of the media (16%), environmental organizations and interest/pressure groups (13%), and the EU (8%). With only 4%, of respondents trusting national governments more than any other information source, they are seen to be a comparatively unreliable source of information about the state of the global environment.

Italy, however, completely bucks the trend by voting the media the most trustworthy source of information on the environment (62%), ahead of academic sources, who receive support from fewer than one in five (17%). Respondents in the Netherlands are most trusting of their national government to provide reliable information on the environment (9%), whereas those in France are least likely to trust the national government (1%), but most likely to place faith in environmental organisations and interest or pressure groups (21%).

Europe’s business leaders seem to have taken energy concerns home with them, although it seems that damage to the pocket rather than to the environment may be behind the efficiency drive: seven out of ten say they have reduced their energy use at home, of whom 32% say this is out of concern for the environment and marginally more say they have cut energy use in response to rising costs (36%). Only in Spain were business leaders driven significantly more by environmental concern (46%) than by rising energy prices (17%). In addition, four out of ten respondents have bought a more fuel efficient car, 32% use public transport more often, 31% have cut back on how much they drive, 20% have reduced their air travel and 13% use renewable energy sources such as solar or wind power at home.

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