Greendex survey shows consumer behavior doesn't match perception
Nicole Darnall, a senior sustainability scholar with ASU's Global Institute of Sustainability, spoke with a writer for National Geographic Daily News about some of the findings in the 2012 Greendex survey, which was released this month.
Greendex, a worldwide tracking survey produced by National Geographic and GlobeScan, measured consumer behavior in 65 areas related to housing, transportation, food and consumer goods in 17 countries.
In the story “Americans Least Green – And Feel Least Guilt, Survey Suggests,” writer Ker Than noted that the survey showed “when asked what proportion of their fellow citizens were green, most people responded 20 to 40 percent. Yet when asked if they themselves were green, more than half said they are.”
Darnall responded that "this might be a form of green self-delusion on the part of consumers, but it might also be due to a well-known effect in sociology called the social desirability bias, in which respondents often say what is socially desirable than stating their true feelings and actions.
"It's not a surprise that consumers believed they were environmentally responsible. ... Consumers want to respond in a socially desirable way, and there is a lot of research that suggests they're not going to respond very honestly about their less socially acceptable behaviors," said Darnell, an associate professor in ASU’s School of Sustainability and its School of Public Affairs in the College of Public Programs.
Authors of the 2012 Greendix survey concluded: “We have learned more about how perceptions and behavioral realities are often out of sync with each other when it comes to sustainable consumption, making the transition to sustainability all the more complicated.”
The Greendex and related materials are online at environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/greendex.