Worldwide, Consumers Who Feel Most Guilty About Their Environmental Impact Are Least to Blame


Washington, DC – 13 July 2012 – A new global analysis released today by the National Geographic Society finds that U.S. consumers rank last of 17 countries surveyed in sustainable behavior, with a score of 44.7 on the 2012 Greendex. U.S. consumers are among the least likely to feel “guilty about the impact” they have on the environment (21%), yet they are near the top in believing their individual choices could make a difference (47%).
The National Geographic Society’s complete 2012 Greendex is online at
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In what may be a major disconnect between perception and behavior, the study also shows that consumers who feel the guiltiest about their impact – those in China, India and Brazil – actually lead the pack in sustainable consumer choices, with Greendex scores of 58.9, 57.8 and 55.5 respectively. That’s despite Chinese and Indian consumers also being among the least confident that individual action can help the environment. The findings highlight an opportunity for governments, companies and NGOs to help empower consumers.
“National Geographic developed the Greendex in 2008 to explore the behaviors and attitudes of consumers worldwide over time, to see how they relate to the environment,” said Terry Garcia, Executive Vice President for Mission Programs at the National Geographic Society. “The 2012 Greendex shows a wide range of perspectives among global consumers as to their views about their own individual impact and responsibility as well as their power to take action.  When compared with Greendex calculations about the sustainability of consumers’ individual behaviors, the results are striking.”
The data suggest a significant divide between how emerging markets and developed nations experience environmental challenges. Consumers in emerging markets are among the most likely to say that environmental problems are having a negative impact on their health, and they are more inclined than others to expect that global warming will “worsen [their] way of life” within their lifetime; concern about air and water pollution is highest among Chinese, Mexican, Brazilian and Argentinean consumers as well as in Russia and India. Americans, meanwhile, express greatest concern about economic impacts: The economy is the top concern, and the cost of energy and fuel is second – both more prominent than in developing countries.
“While there can be many factors that affect individual behavior, the paradoxes that we see in this survey are intriguing and potentially encouraging,” Garcia said. “Clearly, issues related to sustainability are resonating with some consumer segments. Gaining a better understanding of what’s behind those differences presents an opportunity to inspire and enable broader changes in behavior.”
The National Geographic Greendex was launched in 2008 in conjunction with the research consultancy GlobeScan to inform consumers worldwide and motivate sustainable choices. It explores individual consumer behavior and material lifestyle of 17,000 consumers in 17 countries around the world, 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. It is the only survey of its kind.
Among the top findings:

  • Americans earned a Greendex score of 44.7, ranking 17th out of 17 on the Greendex. Just 21 percent feel guilty about the impact they have on the environment, among the lowest of those surveyed. Yet they have the most faith in an individual’s ability to protect the environment, at 47 percent.
  • Indian consumers rank first (58.9) and Chinese second (57.8) overall on the Greendex. Yet 45 percent of Indian and 42 percent of Chinese consumers feel guilty about the impact they have on the environment – first and second among those surveyed and two times higher than Americans. 53 percent of Chinese consumers don’t believe individuals have the ability to protect the environment, the second highest among all surveyed; Indian consumers rank fourth at 42 percent. Taken together, those with the lightest environmental footprint are also most likely to feel both guilty and disempowered.

At, individuals around the world can take an online survey to find out their personal Greendex score. They can also examine the Greendex survey results by country, measure their knowledge of some basic green issues against what others around the world know and get tips on living a more environmentally friendly lifestyle.

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Note: Hi-res versions of the graph and charts are available at the following ftp site: (username:  press / password:  press)


About The National Geographic Greendex 2012

The Greendex is the world’s only comprehensive analysis of the individual consumer behaviors most closely tied to environmental impact. It provides a unique map of sustainable consumer behavior worldwide – allowing insight into how consumer perceptions and attitudes align with specific actions and choices.

Consumer Behaviors

Some specific findings from the four top areas of consumer behavior explored by the Greendex include:

  • French and American consumers are most likely to report that they drive alone in a car or truck: 56 percent of French consumers and 55 percent of Americans say they do every day or almost every day. Chinese (20 percent) and Indian consumers (16 percent) are least likely to do so. Across the 17 countries surveyed, 36 percent say they drive alone regularly.
  • Americans are least likely to use public transportation: Only 7 percent say they use it every day or most days. Russians are most likely with 43 percent. On average in the countries studied, just 24 percent of consumers use public transportation daily or almost daily.
  • Americans are also least likely to bike or walk to their destination: Just 34 percent say they do so often or always. Chinese (73 percent) and Hungarian consumers (72 percent) are most likely to do so. Across the 17 countries in total, 58 percent say they walk or bike often or almost always.
  • Spanish and German consumers are the most likely to say that they keep heating and cooling at low settings to save energy often or all the time (69 percent), with Americans and French consumers tied in second place with 67 percent. Russians are the least likely at 25 percent.
  • Brazilians and Germans are the most likely to report minimizing the use of fresh water often or all the time with 69 percent. Of the least likely, Americans are third from the bottom with 37 percent, followed by Swedes (29 percent) and Spanish consumers (27 percent).
  • Brazilians (80 percent) and Australians (70 percent) are most likely report washing laundry in cold water to save energy; Swedes (12 percent) and Russians (10 percent) are least likely to do so. In total, 48 percent of consumers in the countries surveyed say they do; Americans are about average with 51 percent.
  • Argentineans eat the most beef: 61 percent eat it every day or several times a week, as opposed to 35 percent of Americans and just 9 percent of Indians. Globally, 28 percent of consumers eat beef every day or several times per week – one of the most environmentally intensive food sources.
  • Chinese consumers eat the most vegetables: 63 percent eat them every day, while just 37 percent of Americans do the same.
  • Chinese consumers also report the greatest increase in meat consumption over the past five years: 9 percent greatly increased and an additional 28 percent somewhat increased meat consumption.
  • Just 22 percent of consumers globally say they try to buy things used or pre-owned instead of new. American consumers are among the most likely to choose used over new goods (31 percent), topped only by Swedes (32 percent).
  • Consumers most likely to recycle often or all of the time are Canadian (83 percent), British (82), German (81) and Australian (80). Worldwide, 61 percent of consumers recycle often or all the time. 69 percent of Americans report recycling regularly; South Koreans are least likely to recycle at just 29 percent.
  • 95 percent of consumers worldwide report owning, renting or leasing at least one TV and 14 percent report households with four or more. 96 percent of Americans report possessing at least one computer and 96 percent say they have at least one TV.

Consumer Perceptions: Guilt vs. the Greendex

Americans trail the rest of the world in green consumer behavior, yet American consumers feel comparatively little guilt about their environmental impact. Further, American consumers tend to believe that their individual actions can make a difference for the environment.

  • Americans earned a Greendex score of 44.7, ranking 17th out of 17 on the Greendex.
  • Americans were among the least likely to agree with the statement, “I feel guilty about the impact I have on the environment.” Just 21 percent of Americans strongly agree or agree; only Australians, Germans and Japanese report lower levels of guilt. Generally, consumers who feel guilty about their impact also tend to report that they are making an effort to reduce it.
  • Of all consumers worldwide, Americans are among the most confident that their individual actions can help the environment. They lead the world in disagreeing with the statement that “the impact that our society has on the environment is so severe that there is very little individuals can do about it.” (Americans are tied with Japanese and Canadian consumers at 47 percent).

Across the 17 countries surveyed, consumers who feel guiltier and less confident that their actions can make a difference tend to have more sustainable consumption patterns.

  • Indian consumers rank first (58.9), Chinese rank second (57.8) and Brazilians rank third (55.5) overall on the Greendex.
  • Indian consumers rank first in agreeing that “I feel guilty about the impact I have on the environment.” (45 percent strongly agree or agree.) Chinese consumers tied with Mexico for second place (42 percent strongly agree or agree), and Brazilians rank fourth (40 percent strongly agree or agree).
  • Chinese consumers rank second in agreeing that “the impact that our society has on the environment is so severe that there is very little individuals can do about it.” (53 percent strongly agree or agree.) Indians rank fourth (42 percent strongly agree or agree).

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For More Information, Please Contact

Robin Miller, Manager, Marketing and Communications, GlobeScan, +1 519 378 3698,

About the National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is one of the world’s largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations. Founded in 1888 to “increase and diffuse geographic knowledge,” the Society’s mission is to inspire people to care about the planet. It reaches more than 400 million people worldwide each month through its official journal, National Geographic, and other magazines; National Geographic Channel; television documentaries; music; radio; films; books; DVDs; maps; exhibitions; live events; school publishing programs; interactive media; and merchandise. National Geographic has funded more than 10,000 scientific research, conservation and exploration projects and supports an education program promoting geographic literacy. For more information, visit

About GlobeScan

For 25 years, GlobeScan has helped clients measure and build value-generating relationships with their stakeholders. Uniquely placed at the nexus of reputation, brand and sustainability, we partner with clients to build trust, drive engagement and inspire innovation within, around and beyond their organizations. For more information, visit

Related Links:

National Geographic / GlobeScan Greendex Case Study
2010 Greendex: Press Release / Highlights Report
2009 Greendex: Press Release / Highlights Report
2008 Greendex: Press Release / Highlights Report