In their fourth survey that measures and monitors consumer behaviors that have an impact on the environment, the National Geographic Society and the research consultancy GlobeScan have found that environmentally friendly behavior among consumers has increased from 2010 in only five of 17 countries surveyed. Sustainable consumer behavior has decreased in nine. In only one country surveyed has environmentally friendly consumer behavior slipped below our 2008 baseline levels. So, while progress remains positive overall, some momentum has been shed in the past two years.
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 2012: Consumer Choice and the Environment—A Worldwide Tracking Survey” measures consumer behavior in areas relating to housing, transportation, food, and consumer goods. Greendex 2012 ranks average consumers in 17 countries according to the environmental impact of their consumption patterns and is the only survey of its kind.
The top-scoring consumers of 2012 are in the developing economies of India, China, and Brazil, in descending order. Those in emerging economies continue to round out the top tier of the Greendex ranking, while the lowest scores are all earned by consumers in industrialized countries. American consumers’ behavior still ranks as the least sustainable of all countries surveyed since the inception of the study, followed by Canadian, Japanese, and French consumers.
Meanwhile, consumers in developing countries with the highest Greendex scores are the most likely to agree that they “feel guilty about the impact [they] have on the environment,” despite having the lightest footprint as individuals. The research finds a positive relationship between the extent to which people feel guilty about their impact and the Greendex scores of average consumers in the same countries. Consumers with low Greendex scores, i.e., those demonstrating the least sustainable behavior as consumers, are least likely to feel guilty about the implications of their choices for the environment.
However, the opposite is true when it comes to the extent to which people feel empowered to help improve the environment as individuals. Those with the lowest Greendex scores and the least sustainable patterns of behavior are, ironically, also those who most feel able to make a difference. Consumers in emerging economies feel relatively helpless in the face of environmental problems which are often more tangible there.
Consumers in countries such as Mexico, Brazil, China, and India tend to be most concerned about issues like climate change, air and water pollution, species loss, and shortages of fresh water—all factors affecting the planet’s ability to support life. Consumers in these large emerging economies are the most likely to report that environmental problems are having a negative impact on their health today. In contrast, the economy and the cost of energy and fuel elicit the most concern among American, French, and British consumers.
Consumers registering the largest 2012 versus 2010 increases in environmentally sustainable consumer behavior are the South Koreans and Germans, followed by the Spanish and Chinese. Consumers in the rapidly growing economies of India and Brazil, followed by Russia, have seen their Greendex scores decrease most since 2010. Between 2008 and 2010, consumers in eight of the 14 countries surveyed in all three years demonstrated year over year improvements. Of those, only Chinese and Hungarian consumers have extended the trend in 2012.
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Press Release (PDF)
Explore the Greendex
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