What Does the Greendex Tell Us About America?

National Geographic's second annual survey of green consumers worldwide puts Americans in last place.

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The results are in for National Geographic's second annual Greendex, and they aren't pretty: Though the study found that Americans are slightly greener than last year, we're still coming in at the bottom of the pack. Greendex studied 17,000 consumers in a total of 17 countries to find out their opinions on energy, transportation, food, green products, attitudes towards the environment and sustainability, environmental knowledge. And in the nearly 300 pages of data, there are some obvious conclusions - and some surprises.

1. We're cocky. More Americans - 10 percent - claimed that their personal lifestyle was not at all harmful to the environment than any other country surveyed. India was the least cocky, with 14 percent of respondents claiming that their personal actions were extremely harmful to the environment. When it comes to environmental guilt, though, we rank above the Brits, Canadians, Japanese and Germans.

2. We're not craving fancy cars. Maybe it's the economy, but Americans were surprisingly unlikely to state that owning a luxury car was an important goal in their life. Eighty one percent disagreed. Who's craving the most luxury? Indians, Brazilians, Mexicans, Argentinians and the Chinese.
3. We're not influenced easily by our peers. America is fourth from the bottom in respondents who say that people they know have encouraged them to become environmentally responsible through their words and actions. Considering that 43 percent of Americans said they have encouraged someone to be more environmentally responsible in the past year, and 55 percent have had a conversation with someone about global warming, it appears that we're tuning each other out.
4. The view from the top is nice. Americans were the third most likely to disagree that all countries should have a standard of living as high as the wealthiest countries. Only South Koreans and the Japanese were more likely to disagree.
5. Our houses are big.Thirty percent of Americans have houses with 9 or more rooms. The only country with a greater percentage of large houses was Australia, at 32 percent with nine or more rooms. Russians have the smallest houses, with 47 percent living in one or two rooms. Yet, when asked if owning a big house was a goal in life, 46 percent of Americans strongly disagreed.
6. Our cars are the biggest. No surprise here - Americans come in first place for the greatest percentage driving a minivan or SUV, at 33 percent. But is the age of the SUV over?
7. We like a solo commute. Only five percent take transit every day. Clearly, this could be due to the fact that public transit is poor or unavailable throughout much of our country, and that's not likely to get better in this economy. Indeed, 55 percent of Americans reported public transit being unavailable in their area, and 40 percent were unlikely to take it because it took too long. We're also the least likely to take trains - 77 percent of respondents stated that they never ride one.
8. Our food comes from far away - but not too far. Forty-six percent of Americans were likely to eat local food less than once or twice a month. But we're less unlikely to consume imported foods - 24 percent of American respondents said they never do. So, while our food may be coming from across the country, it's not necessarily coming from around the world.
9. Reusable bags are not our thing. But we're getting better. Americans came in last place in reusable bag use, with 33 percent saying they use them always or often. Compare that to the French at 88 percent. At the same time, 33 percent represents a huge jump for us - last year, only 19 percent were likely to use a reusable bag.
10. We know that we can take action. Fifty-seven percent of Americans disagreed with the statement, "The impact that our society has on the environment is so severe that there is very little individuals can do about it."  

Who are the greenest consumers in the world? The list, from best to worst:

• Indians

• Brazilians
• Chinese
• Argentineans
• South Koreans
• Mexicans
• Hungarians
• Russians
• Spanish
• Germans
• Swedes
• Australians
• French
• British
• Japanese
• Canadians
• Americans


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