In this second annual survey to measure and monitor consumer behaviors that have an impact on the environment, National Geographic and the international polling firm GlobeScan have found an increase in environmentally friendly consumer behavior in 13 of the 14 countries that were surveyed in both 2008 and 2009. This year's survey added consumers from three countries, for a total of 17.
Findings from the inaugural Greendex survey in 2008 raised concerns about what economic development and the material aspirations that come with it would mean for the impact that the average consumer in rapidly developing countries has on the environment. At the same time, the results reminded us that consumers in wealthy countries have a proportionately greater impact on the environment than others—and that they can and should make more sustainable choices.
The world has changed since January 2008. Following what was an extremely volatile year by many measures, National Geographic replicated its Greendex survey in January 2009. How has consumer behavior changed from one year ago? And if it has changed, why? What direction are we headed in terms of the environment?
As seen in 2008, the top-scoring consumers of 2009 are in the developing economies of India, Brazil and China. Argentina and South Korea, both new additions to the survey, are virtually tied for fourth, followed by Mexicans, Hungarians and Russians. Ranks ninth through thirteenth, the latter a three-way tie, are all occupied by Europeans, as well as Australians in twelfth. Japanese, U.S. and Canadian consumers again score lowest.
Survey results suggest that both cost considerations and environmental concerns may have motivated consumers to adopt more environmentally sustainable behavior over the past year, hence the general increase in Greendex scores. The 2009 Greendex survey has identified a number of types of environmentally friendly behavior that have become more common, and many of these result in cost savings for consumers. For example, consumers in 11 of the 14 countries surveyed in 2008 and 2009 are more likely this year to report that they keep their heating and cooling settings in their households lower to save energy. The practice of washing laundry in cold water rather than hot to save energy has also become more widespread in nine countries surveyed in both years. Preference for buying second-hand rather than new household items has become more widespread, as has as the preference for repairing broken items to extend their useful lives.
Overall, Greendex scores are up from 2008, which is good news. Many will ask the question, however, whether this is not due to the economic downturn alone? The answer to that question has to be no. Clearly, economic conditions have reined in consumption levels, and that is reflected in the increased Greendex scores. At the same time, however, environmental concerns have remained strong, and awareness of the issues at hand has increased. Consumers have been alerted to what they can do easily, and with cost savings as the needed incentive, they have made choices to do so more than they did during 2008.
The message to those that supply the products and services that they consume, and to those that make the rules about how they behave, is a clear one: Make the right thing, provide the right opportunities, and consumers will do the right thing.
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