National Geographic and GlobeScan, just released a groundbreaking international study, that takes a comprehensive look at consumers’ progress towards environmentally sustainable consumption. What is especially valuable about the study, is the fact that it does not just look at attitudes, but also actual behaviors and material lifestyles actoss 14 countries. One could spend days digesting the results of the Consumer Choice and the Environment study. If you are going to pick one research study, this is the one.
The above rankings are not flattering for the U.S. and should give decision makers a lot of food for thought. Key drivers in terms of consumers’ beliefs, give us some clues into why such disparities between the different countries, as well as ideas for possible remedial strategies:
The following summary findings show that so called developed countries have a lot to learn from developing countries regarding many aspects of sustainability, such as environmental awareness and practices, food consumption, transportation patterns, housing choices, and community involvement:
- Consumers feel empowered as individuals and are willing to make changes in their consumption habits.
- Consumers in developing countries feel more responsible for environmental problems than those in developed countries.
- Environmental problems are hitting home in large developing countries.
- Consumer choice in these countries is more limited than elsewhere, however, as people in less developed countries report lower levels of availability of green household products and foods.
- Current material lifestyles in emerging markets are environmentally more sustainable than those of wealthy countries as overall per capita consumption is lower – for now.
- The current pace of economic development in emerging markets and its implications for sustainability are reflected in the survey results. Citizens in large developing countries express a thirst for increased consumption, and many believe that people in all countries should have the same standard of living as those in the wealthiest countries do today. People in the developing world, however, are more willing to make environmentally friendly choices given the opportunity.
- The survey results identify global gaps in transportation patterns. Consumers in North America, Australia, and Western Europe are much more likely than others to own at least one car or truck, and they also drive alone in a car or truck much more frequently than others – most Chinese surveyed say they never do. Instead, consumers in Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and Russia frequently use public transportation, whereas North American, Australian, and European respondents rarely do so; American respondents are especially unlikely to use public transportation. The global outlook for sustainable transportation is challenging as the transportation gap between rich and poor countries is beginning to narrow.
- Consumer demand for organic and local foods is strong. The food consumption profiles of Japanese and Americans are the least sustainable of those surveyed.
- Consumer knowledge of environmental issues can be improved.