In their third annual survey to measure and monitor consumer behaviors that have an impact on the environment, the National Geographic Society and the international polling firm GlobeScan have found that environmentally friendly behavior among consumers in 10 out of 17 countries has increased over the past year. The survey results show that environmentally friendly consumer behavior, as measured by the Greendex, has now increased from 2008 levels in all but one of the 14 countries polled in both 2008 and 2010. By environmentally friendly consumer behavior, we mean people’s transportation patterns, household energy and resource use, consumption of food and everyday consumer goods, and what consumers are doing to minimize the impact these activities have on the environment.
“Greendex 2010: Consumer Choice and the Environment — A Worldwide Tracking Survey” is a comprehensive measure of consumer behavior in 65 areas relating to housing, transportation, food and consumer goods. Greendex 2010 ranks average consumers in 17 countries according to the environmental impact of their consumption patterns and is the only survey of its kind.
As in 2008, the top-scoring consumers of 2010 are in the developing economies of India, Brazil, China, in descending order. American consumers’ behavior still ranks as the least sustainable of all countries surveyed since the inception of the survey three years ago, followed by Canadian, French and British consumers. Consumers in emerging economies continue to round out the top tier of the Greendex ranking, while the six lowest scores were all earned by consumers in industrialized countries.
Consumers registering the largest 2010 vs. 2008 increase in environmentally sustainable consumer behavior were the Indians, Russians and Americans. Environmentally sustainable behavior among average consumers in India, China, Mexico, Russia, Hungary, Japan, Great Britain, and Canada has also increased steadily each year. In contrast, consumers in Germany, Spain, Sweden, France and South Korea have slipped slightly over the past year.
Notably, in a majority of the countries surveyed since 2008, three-year trends toward improvement have occurred. While these increases in Greendex scores are sometimes subtle, the trend is in a positive direction. Others have been more distinct. For instance, Americans’ average Greendex score has increased by 1.3 points in each year. Still, Americans have yet to surpass Canadians’ 2008 score.
Much of the increase in the overall Greendex scores was due to more sustainable behavior in the housing category in both 2009 and 2010. Here, the Greendex measures the energy and resources consumed by people’s homes. Americans, Hungarians, British and Australians all saw marked increases in this area, as consumers made moves to improve the energy efficiency of their homes. In some countries, economic stimulus programs may have been a factor in motivating change.
Changes in personal behavior within the categories of personal transportation, food and consumer goods were mixed, with some countries improving and some deteriorating.
The survey results show that both cost considerations and environmental concerns motivated consumers to adopt more environmentally sustainable behavior over the past year. When consumers who reported decreases in their energy consumption were asked why their consumption declined, most cited cost as one of their top two reasons, but significant percentages ranging from approximately 20 percent to 50 percent said that environmental concerns were one of the main reasons for the decrease.
When asked to what extent 10 different factors discourage them from doing more for the environment than they do now, the largest proportion across the 17 countries said they do not do more because companies make false claims about the environmental impacts of their products. The second most commonly cited obstacle was that further individual efforts are not worth it if governments and industries do not also take action.
GlobeScan’s analysis of the data reveals that these two perceptions directly or indirectly suppress more sustainable consumption and put downward pressure on Greendex scores. Cost, a lack of environmentally friendly options and information are barriers for significantly fewer people. The belief that environmental problems are exaggerated is the least common obstacle. It appears that consumers are sending a message that they want “less talk and more action” from business and government, or at least action before talk.
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