Based on the recently released National Geographic Greendex report, citizens of Brazil and India rank the highest for having the greenest consumptive practices, with China coming in close behind. According to National Geographic, the report is an attempt to develop an international research approach that goes beyond attitudes and concerns to actual behavior in order to track and measure “consumer progress towards environmentally sustainable consumption.”
In cooperation with research and survey company, Globescan, the Greendex ranked respondents in 14 countries over four sub-indices, which break down to transportation, housing, food, and goods consumption. Brazil and India both ranked the highest with a tie score of 60.0 whereas France, Canada, and the United States rounded out the bottom with respective scores of 48.7, 48.5, and 44.9.
India for example, received the highest ranking in the food sub-index because of the low levels of meat and high volumes of fruits and vegetables that are consumed there. And 41% of Brazilians surveyed claimed to avoid environmentally unfriendly products at all times. However, it doesn’t take much time to realize that there is a strong correlation between the rankings and the divide of developed and developing nations. It is quite logical to assume one will consume more goods and resources living in a two-car, nine-room, dual-income household that might be found in the US or Canada versus a no-car, one- or two-room household in China or Mexico.
The researchers of the study have no qualms admitting to this fact though. “Regardless of why they behave as they do,” whether drivers of action are culture, health concerns, or income, “on average, individual consumers in developing countries have less impact on the environment than the average consumer in wealthy countries.” The study goes on to conclude, “From this perspective, it doesn’t matter why people behave as they do; all measured behavior has an environmental impact.”
Though this study is intended to be a marker of actual behavior, what is interesting are the concessions that are made about the attitudes and concerns of consumers across developing and developed nation lines. 64% of people surveyed in Brazil feel that global warming will worsen their ways of life in their own lifetimes, 1.5 times more than second ranked Mexico in this category and nearly 3 times more than the US. Yet, the findings are almost identical in another category surveying whether people in all countries should have the same standard of living as people in the wealthiest of countries. That is to say, if people in Brazil had the opportunity to drive more, live in larger houses, and use air conditioners, they would if they could. Though this might be an overly reductive example, consumers surveyed in Brazil, China, Russia, and especially India also demonstrated the lowest average knowledge of environmental issues concerning the world today, which calls to question if the citizens surveyed from these countries are in fact the most sustainably minded consumers.
“Consumers anywhere can change many of their behaviors for better or for worse,” concludes the study. “These results pose a challenge to governments and companies to make more sustainable choices available to consumers, and to consumers to adopt more environmentally friendly behaviors.” Along with nine others, countries like Brazil have already adopted guidelines set forth by organizations such as the OECD, which work with both governments and businesses to establish responsible best practices, so there appears to be an attempt to push towards that direction. However, another recent study released by the Economist Intelligence Unit claimed that though many businesses accepted sustainability as a growing concern, most companies find it difficult to define and accurately implement sustainable strategies.
And this is even evident in how we define the green movement from an individual, consumer level. We can see this in how “organic” is defined so differently across different parts of the world, the Greendex had to discount organics in its foods sub-index. So as the purchasing power of the citizens of countries like Brazil and India increase with the growth of those nations’ respective economies, and as consumers in developed nations become more and more informed, it will be interesting to see how consumption practices evolve. It will be interesting to see how the balance is struck between the supply, the policy, and the attitudes of how and what we consume across the world.