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As a certain Muppet once lamented, it's not easy being green.

A new survey reveals we are not as environmentally friendly as we would like to be, and that the time, effort and money required to change behaviour may be the reason.

The New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development survey questioned 4000 New Zealanders on their success at reducing their emissions in the past, and their intentions for the future.

Most reported taking fewer emission-reducing actions this year than last year. Fewer people bought fuel-efficient, low-emission vehicles, rented or bought more energy-efficient homes, or bought energy-efficient appliances.

There were also fewer people with green intentions for the coming year.

Those who intended to buy a more fuel-efficient vehicle fell from over half last year to 18 per cent this year.

More than a third of people intended to rent or buy an energy-efficient home in 2007, but this fell to 10 per cent in 2008. The numbers who intended to buy carbon offsets and energy-efficient appliances also fell.

Council chief executive Peter Neilson said the results might be a reflection of the economic climate.

"Although people's behaviour might change in the short term, their aspirations don't. A lot of people believe that as soon as there's a recession people don't want to do these things any more. But they still want to - it's just that fewer can manage expensive things like buying a new, energy-efficient car."

He said the results would change from year to year as more people took up energy-saving initiatives.

"It reaches a saturation point. For example, people who replaced old lightbulbs with energy-efficient ones last year obviously won't need to do that this year, and people may already have bought a more energy-efficient car as a result of high fuel prices."

University of Auckland senior marketing lecturer Rick Starr said people were intrigued by the idea of buying green.

"But when it comes down to actual purchase it's hard to find products that fit. Green options for people are limited."

"Although people have good intentions and would like to be greener, sometimes it's hard to do that. Walk into a supermarket and look at how little organic produce there is."

But one of New Zealand's largest green retailers, said supermarkets had more eco-friendly products than ever - and they were gradually creeping up to the spot directly in shoppers' eyeline.

Mitch Cuevas, Australasian chief executive of Ecostore, said New Zealanders were keen to be more environmentally friendly in their actions and the products they used.

New Zealanders were environmentally conscious and were becoming more so, but he admitted that was particularly true if it did not cost more and did not require any effort.

"Ecostore has seen annual growth of about 90 per cent for the last three to four years. Our feedback indicates more people are appreciating using household products that cause no harm to the environment or to themselves, and once they use them they become loyal customers."

The Shape NZ survey found green intentions that did not require spending were up on last year. This year, 65 per cent said they intended to recycle household waste, up from 60 per cent last year.

Almost half - 48 per cent - said they would walk rather than drive in an effort to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and help manage climate change, an increase from 42 per cent last year.

Mr Starr said it was important to distinguish between intentions and actual behaviour.

"New Year resolutions are a good example. You need complete and total conviction to change behaviour. Green intentions are up, which is good. We need to then make realistic options available to people."