Canadian consumers rank second-last in green survey

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Canadians scored dismally in a 14-country survey on environmentally friendly consumption patterns, in part owing to a widespread car culture and a penchant for big homes.

The survey was conducted by the polling firm GlobeScan for the National Geographic Society. Canada finished ahead of the United States but behind Brazil, India, China, Mexico, Hungary, Russia, Great Britain, Germany, Australia, Spain, Japan and France.

"I think that the survey results… really set an important reminder to Canadians that on a per capita basis Canadians' footprint is really quite heavy compared with other countries," said Eric Whan, GlobeScan's director of sustainability, at a press conference.

One thousand consumers from each of the 14 countries completed the online survey about their consumption patterns between January 11 and February 13. Participants answered questions about housing, transportation, food and their purchasing habits and were given a score out of 100. Government action and industry were not assessed.

The researchers acknowledged that financial and cultural circumstances may have influenced the rankings, with developing countries scoring well. But, they argued consumers everywhere can choose to be more environmentally friendly in their consumption habits.

"Regardless of why consumers behave in an environmentally friendly way — whether it be driven by health concerns, whether it's a cultural thing, climate, income… or a real conscious decision to be more green — the fact is individual consumers in developing countries have less impact on the environment than the average consumer in wealthy countries," Whan said.

"In this sense, it really doesn't matter why they behave in the way they do — the fact is, their behaviour does have an environmental impact and consumers anywhere can change in many ways, many of their behaviours for better or worse."

The survey found that 29 per cent of Canadians have nine or more rooms in their houses, putting Canada at the higher end of the spectrum for house size. Canadians were also penalized for heating their homes.

While acknowledging heating as a necessity in Canada's northern climate, the researchers said Canadians scored low because of the way they choose to heat their homes.

"The Canadians being one of the highest users in the market basket of energy overall was quite surprising," said Lloyd Hetherington, GlobeScan's executive vice-president.

"We know that there's penalties there for living in a colder climate, for being stretched out in a large country but by and large in most of these indices, Canada did not score well. There's a lot to be done."

By comparison, Brazil earned high marks for having smaller homes, infrequent use of home heating and widespread use of renewable electricity. Respondents in China and India also raised their green index value for the use of solar panels to heat water.

In terms of transportation, Canada ranked 12th out of the 14 countries surveyed with 52 per cent of respondents saying they drive alone daily. The survey also found 87 per cent say they have one or more vehicles in their households. In contrast, 22 per cent reported using public transportation at least once a week. China ranked well in this category, though the study noted car use there was growing notably.

Canadians scored well in recycling with 59 per cent of respondents saying they always recycled and 46 per cent said they donated items that could be reused. About 50 per cent of Canadians also said they have energy-saving washing machines and/or refrigerators and freezers. China, India and Brazil led in the consumer goods index, with most consumers reporting they purchase green products and own few appliances.

With more Canadians saying they buy locally grown foods, Canadians ranked fifth in the food index. Canada also earned points for below-average consumption of bottled water at 52 per cent.

The study also found 19 per cent of Canadian consumers believe environmental problems will negatively affect their health though only 20 per cent said they were actively attempting to lessen their impact on the environment.

The results of the survey were weighted according to census data to best represent age, gender and education demographics for each country. The results are considered to be accurate within 3.1 percentage points 95 per cent of the time.


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