The Chinese have a light environmental impact—and, paradoxically, a lot of green guilt.
The National Geographic Society and GlobeScan‘s Greendex report had some disheartening findings this year for Americans: We are the nation that is ranked last in the world for sustainable behavior, and yet we’re also the most optimistic about our individual actions having a positive impact on the environment. That is to say: Americans are colossally delusional when it comes to our own sustainable practices.
The Greendex is a massive survey that questions 17,000 consumers in over 17 countries on their housing, transportation and food choices. Among these countries, which include China, Brazil and India, the United States has the least environmentally conscious consumers on the planet. And the United States has ranked last on the survey every year since it was started, in 2008.
GlobeScan’s director of sustainability, Eric Whan, points a finger at our culture of consumption. “Greenwashing” gives many Americans the idea that they can buy their way into eco-consciousness, without taking into account the sheer volume of consumption. Americans are also the most likely to drive alone in a car or truck; the least likely to take public transportation, and the least likely to walk or ride a bike to their destination. Yet only 21 percent of Americans felt guilty about their impact on the environment.
On the plus side, Americans were most likely to buy used goods, and they’re relatively more likely to recycle—although Canadian, German, British and Australian consumers all recycle more. Moreover, the United States Department of Agriculture’s certification program makes it easier for Americans to find and purchase organic produce.
Consumers in India, China and Brazil have a much lighter environmental impact on the whole, even as they report greater feelings of guilt regarding their own sustainable practices. Whan speculates that in countries where the green guilt is higher, there’s a greater sense that environmental issues have real impacts on peoples’ health and quality of life.
Nicole Darnall, a researcher at the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University who was not involved in the survey, speculated that green guilt might be the least in those countries that are still debating whether climate change is an issue. In general, people were more inclined to report themselves as being more environmentally responsible than they already were. At the very least, knowing that there is a such a wide gap between our attitudes and our practices might give us all a little push to overcome it.
Curious about how you measure up? Calculate your own Greendex score here.