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Archive for the ‘Consumer Research’ Category

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:

Future environmental campaigns and policies should take these results into consideration and focus on supporting helpful beliefs, while also decreasing unhelpful beliefs. 

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.
This study should be mandatory material for all policy-makers. I urge you to spread it throughout the blogosphere, and also to email it to all your friends. 

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As of late, Gallup has been a great source of important climate related behavioral data. Here is the third survey in the series, this time taking a look at differences between top polluting nations:


These are global numbers. Equally relevant are per capita footprints – latest, 2006 data from Footprint Network:

United States 9.6

China 1.6 (and growing quickly)

Russia 4.4

Japan 4.4

India 0.8 (also growing)

Japan and the US have done a good job at educating the public. China, and even more so India have done a poor job. In both of these countries, one should consider helping with educational efforts, particularly as consumption, and the risk of associated environmental damage, are growing exponentially.

Differences in education, infrastructure, access to resources such as water, and wealth, have a direct impact on citizens’ behavior:

My main take away: people are a product of their environment. Change the environment, and you will get different behaviors. Make it hard for people to access resources as in India with water for instance, and they will use less. Give them the right infrastructure, as in recycling in Japan or the US, and they will follow.

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Another recent Gallup survey completes and confirms what we already know from the other Gallup survey and other research.

  • There is a core group of people, about 30% who are deeply committed to making environmental changes. As Kyle emphasized in one of his earlier comments here, these are the people we need to work with. They can be evangelists for sustainable living.

  • The environment is a significant concern, but one that comes behind more personal and immediate concerns such as the economy, health care, energy, crime, social security, and drug use. One could say that energy concerns are directly related to the environment, and that from a systemic point of view, other issues are connected as well:

  • Recycling comes out on top, again. Probably the only green habit that is supported with widespread infrastructure and easy, no cost solutions. Let us take note and imagine how the same can be done in the other areas.

  • Last, this particular survey gets into demographics, and confirms prior research. Women are leading the way of the green revolution, and so are the people with more democrat leanings. Mary and Diane, the women part should please you!

I don’t know about you, but this leaves me with a sense of increased clarity, and hope for what can and needs to be done next.

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From the New York Times, today, on ‘Across Globe, Empty Bellies Bring Rising Anger‘:

Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

From the Star, a few months ago, on ‘Obesity Becoming World Crisis‘:

According to the United Nations, there are now more overweight people in the world than starving people. Maybe time for some give and take, literally? What do you think? Do you have any ideas of how to make this work?

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Looks like No Impact Man and I, were both wrong. This whole business of declining happiness past a certain level of consumption, may be a fallacy after all. Chrystia Freeland, from the Financial Times just featured a forthcoming research paper by two bright and up-coming economists from the Wharton School. According to Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson, the Easterlin Paradox does not exist. It is not true that there is a limit to how much happiness money can buy.:

They conclude that we do, in fact, become happier overall as our country becomes richer. This is true over time – as generations get richer they get happier; and over space – people living in rich countries are happier than people in poor countries. They also refute the concept of a “satiation point” or the belief that, beyond a certain income threshold, further increases in national wealth cease to increase national happiness.

Controversy is brewing on the happiness front . . . So I need to ask you a personal question. Is there a point at which you have felt- or think you will feel – satiated with material things? I know I have ceased to get pleasure from buying and owning more stuff. But that’s a recent phenomenon. Will it stand the test of time?

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A few months ago, No Impact Man drew a graph showing his interpretation of the connection between quality of life and consumption.

Global Give and Take for a Happier Planet

 

 

Yesterday’s pictures of the Cuban people eagerly snapping up electronics in the stores, made me think of how the No Impact Man‘s graph can be applied not just on a personal, but also a country level. Cubans want in on the consumerist orgy, and we cannot deny them that right, even in the face of the looming global warming threat. Just as we can’t prevent the Chinese or the Indians. Similarly, some of the poorest developing countries in Africa are lacking even the most basic necessities, and yearning for material goods to improve their lives. All are on the left side of the curve. Our job as good neighbors should be to help them get what they want and need, so that they can catch up to us and reach the apex.

Maybe we should listen to James Speth, author of “The Bridge at the End of the World” as he suggests that “We need a new story”? What he means by that, is we, the Western folks, are on the right side of the curve, where more things not only do not make us happier, but instead lead us to become more and more dissatisfied with our lives. At some point, we have to stop and ask ourselves, how can I lead my life differently so that I am more ful-filled, not ‘fake-filled’? New happiness research shows that we are happiest when we give, not when we take. Place this in the context of the people on the left side of the curve, and you can connect the dots.

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All green marketers would do well to take note of Nielsen Online‘s new report just mentioned in Ad Age this morning. According to Jessica Hogue, research director at Nielsen Online, and author of the report, “Corporations can’t do everything in one feel swoop, but need to be authentic and transparent about the steps they are taking,” She also suggests brands, study Footprint Chronicles, Patagonia‘s recent interactive online campaign, that discloses the company’s both environmental good works and sins.

Nielsen Report Says Green Marketers Better Be Authentic and Transparent

It’s time brands understand that they are in a relationship with their citizen customers.

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