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Greendex 2014: Increased Fears About Environment Not Reflected in Consumer Behavior

Image credit: National Geographic

National Geographic’s 2014 Greendex, released today by the National Geographic Society and GlobeScan, finds that concern about environmental problems has increased in most countries surveyed, and that more people expect that global warming will negatively affect them during their lifetime than in 2012. Despite this, the survey — a comprehensive measure of consumer behavior in 65 areas related to housing, transportation, food and consumer goods — shows that corresponding consciousness in consumer behavior has only grown slowly.

Results of the 2014 Greendex, which will be released later this morning at the New Metrics ‘14 conference in Boston, surveyed 18,000 consumers in 18 countries, and is the fifth iteration of the survey, which was first fielded in 2008.

Among the top findings in 2014:


GlobeScan's Eric Whan
will present
findings from the
2014 Greendex
at SB London 2014
  • Environmental concern has increased since 2012: 61 percent of consumers globally now say they are very concerned about environmental problems, compared with 56 percent in 2012.
  • Compared to the study’s 2008 baseline, more conscious consumer behavior has increased in nearly every country tracked since the first wave, suggesting behavior across the world is improving, if slowly.
  • Environmentally friendly behavior has increased in nine of the 17 countries that were surveyed in 2012: Argentina, Australia, Hungary, India, Mexico, Russia, Sweden, South Korea and the United Kingdom. However, it decreased since 2012 among consumers in five countries: Canada, China, Germany, Japan and USA.
  • Consumers in the developing economies of India and China, followed by consumers in South Korea, Brazil and Argentina, are the top-scoring consumers in the 2014 Greendex study. Indian and Chinese consumers also scored highest in 2012.
  • American consumers’ behavior still ranks as the least sustainable of all countries surveyed since the inception of the Greendex study in 2008.
  • More and more consumers are embracing local and organic foods and lightening their environmental footprint in the food category. Nearly all consumers believe that we need to change the way we produce and consume food in order to feed a growing population, and many say it is very important to know how and where their food is produced. Yet relatively few people report that they do.
  • Consumers are anxious about climate change: 51 percent across the 18 countries surveyed in 2014 believe that global warming will negatively affect their own lives, up in seven surveyed countries from 2012 and down in none.
  • Furthermore, 65 percent of consumers overall believe that most scientists are convinced that human activity causes climate change.

“National Geographic developed the Greendex as an important tool for measuring sustainable behavior and changes in behavior around the world over time,” said Terry Garcia, chief science and exploration officer at the National Geographic Society. “The 2014 Greendex provides increased insight into what the drivers are for consumers to engage in more environmentally friendly behavior, such as peer influence and helping people see the connections between humans and the environment. This year we have seen that although change is coming slowly, consumers are showing positive change in their attitudes about sustainable food choices; this data can help inform behavior change in other sectors.”

Eric Whan, who directs the Greendex project at GlobeScan, added: “It’s vital that all actors work together to enable substantive reductions in the environmental impact of consumer behavior around the world. The research underlines that consumers need more encouragement from peers, as well as enablement and better leadership from companies and governments to lighten their own impact. That’s why the Greendex is so important.”

The Greendex was launched in 2008 to inform consumers worldwide and motivate sustainable choices. It explores individual consumer behavior and material lifestyle of 18,000 consumers in 18 countries around the world (14 in 2008), and measures the specific choices and behaviors that contribute most to a consumer’s overall ecological impact — the type of car you drive, the way you heat your house, the kind of foods you eat. A complex algorithm is applied to results to generate an index score — a Greendex score — for each individual respondent that reflects the relative environmental impact of his or her consumption patterns. Individual scores are averaged to create a mean score for consumers in each country. Combined with questions about cultural drivers and perceptions, the Greendex gives a comprehensive view into the state of sustainable consumption.

Consumers can calculate their own Greendex scores on the National Geographic website, and compare their scores to other consumers around the world. They can also examine the Greendex survey results by country, measure their knowledge of green issues and get tips on living a more environmentally friendly lifestyle.

While movement toward sustainable lifestyles seems to be taking hold at a disappointing pace in certain parts of the developed world, the growing presence, awareness and buying power of conscious consumer groups such as the Aspirationals and Generation World are reason to hope that subsequent generations will move the needle significantly.

 


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