St Petersburg University sociologists: residents of the Leningrad region find connection between environmental issues and people’s behaviour and see the solution in raising awareness, development of eco-infrastructure, and increased control

Before World Environment Day, which is celebrated on 5 June, specialists of the Centre for Sociological and Internet Research at St Petersburg University published a paper ‘Environmental Issues and Environmental Culture of the Residents of the Leningrad Region’. Apart from assessing the level of environmental awareness and consciousness, the polling survey of the residents enabled an understanding of: their attitude to the eco situation in the region; how important ecology is for them; and what ways of environmental protection they find most effective.

Almost every second respondent (46,1%) find the ecological situation in the Leningrad region better than the national average. The number of residents who disagree with this point of view is 3.5 times smaller (12,7%). When asked an irrelevant question about how safe is the eco situation in the region in their opinion, respondents give a more cautious view: those who estimated the situation as ‘satisfactory’ or as ‘rather satisfactory’ exceeds those who estimated the ecology in the region as ‘not satisfactory’ only by 5% (44,5% and 38,8% respectively).

The ecological situation in the Leningrad region vs the whole country (%)

Question: ‘From your point of view, is the ecological situation in the Leningrad region better, worse than the national average?’

The main causes of people’s discontent with the environment in their areas are water pollution (37.6%), dirt, dust, garbage on the roads and lanes (36.5%). Another important disturbance factor is fly-tipping and illegal dumps (31.2%).

People are ready to be held accountable for the dissatisfactory environment: among the factors that adversely affect the ecology of the Leningrad region respondents mention people’s behaviour and not technogenic factors. The most frequent answer was ‘irresponsible and disrespectful behaviour of people in the nature’ (67.7%), ‘illegal dumping’ (59.1%), ‘domestic waste’ (42.9%).

Factors affecting the environment in the Leningrad region (%)

Question: ‘From your point of view, what are the factors that affect the environment in the Leningrad region?’

Residents of the Leningrad region are sceptical about the level of environmental responsibility and culture of the people of the region as well as of Russia in general. They think that we need to promote environmental awareness and build a culture of environmental responsibility both among young people and the older generation. The respondents characterised their personal relationship to nature solely as ‘careful, cautious, respectful’. This can be partly explained by the tendency of some respondents to report an answer in a way they deem to be more socially acceptable.

The large majority of respondents claimed to be prepared to collect garbage after outdoor recreational activities (plastic bags, wrappings, bottles and other things), to ‘collect garbage and take it home, if there was not any legal garbage collection place’, to ‘collect garbage and take it to the nearest garbage bin’.

People claim to be ready to remove used batteries only to special collection places, once such places appear in their residential areas. This was stated by a large majority of respondents from the Leningrad region in general (93.2%) and from the Kingiseppsky district in particular (90.4%). This is definitely evidence of people’s readiness to be environmentally friendly.

Today, most of the people who live in the Leningrad region throw used batteries into general waste bins (‘always’ or ‘most often’). Overall, 56.5% of residents of the Leningrad region and 54.3% of residents of the Kingiseppsky district do this.

It is remarkable that a much smaller number of respondents from the Leningrad region support the idea of banning plastic bags and disposable tableware following the example of other countries (62.8%). Almost every fourth respondent (24.7%) is against such measures.

In order to raise environmental awareness residents of the Leningrad region find it necessary to increase the number of special ecological programmes on television and radio. Also, among the top three most effective trends are ‘arranging eco-educational events for the general public, including in recreational areas’, and ‘installing public information boards in recreational areas’.

To stimulate a responsible and conscious attitude to nature, respondents find it important to focus on: strengthening legislation and the monitoring of its implementation; as well as providing a civilised attitude to nature by developing tourism and recreational activities infrastructure, and by creating a system of separate waste collection. The large majority of people who live in the Leningrad region support the creation of special facilities for outdoor recreation (equipped parking areas, stopping points, litter collection) as a way to encourage people to be more environmentally conscious.

Measures for shaping responsible and environmentally friendly behaviour in outdoor areas (%)

Question: ‘From your point of view, what can help make people’s behaviour in outdoor areas (parks, forests, wildlife areas) more environmentally conscious?’

‘The data on the attitude of the Leningrad region residents to the ecological situation in their region, and on their evaluation of their own environmental awareness and consciousness is published on this scale for the first time.’ Maiia Rusakova, Director of the Centre for Sociological and Internet Research at St Petersburg University points out. ‘According to the results of the study, we can presume that the residents of the Leningrad region are ready to engage in environmentally sustainable behaviour, as this issue seems actual for them. Nevertheless, this intention can only turn into real action if the appropriate conditions are created.’

The study concluded that the residents of the Leningrad region are ready to engage in environmentally sustainable behaviour, as this issue seems actual for them.

Maiia Rusakova, Director of the Centre for Sociological and Internet Research at St Petersburg University

Apart from this, as the researchers pointed out, the results of the study provide an opportunity to draw conclusions on: the importance of the ecology issues; the demand for raising environmental awareness; and the demand for special facilities that would allow to decrease the human impact on environment. Additionally, the study shows the readiness of the citizens to take responsibility and change their daily routine. The results of the study can be useful both for experts in the field of ecology and authorities, as well as the general public.

The study included 1,882 residents of the Leningrad region and 1,000 residents of the Kingiseppsky district. The survey was carried out in December 2020 in collaboration with Nord Stream 2 AG, a developer of the Nord Stream-2 – a system of gas pipeline that runs under the Baltic Sea to supply the European Union market with Russian natural gas. In the Kingiseppsky district, where the pipeline starts, the company implements a comprehensive programme of environmental and social initiatives. For example, it analyses ways of solving environmental problems and supports projects that raise environmental awareness and protect biodiversity.