WASHINGTON: That cold water bath many Indians have because there's no electricity...that 'matka' they use because they can't afford a fridge...and the long walk they take to work and back because private transport is expensive and public transport shoddy. There's an upside to the hard life.
Indians may be green with envy at the consumption-driven lifestyle in the West, but their own frugal ways and modest means have catapulted them to the top spot in the world's Green index, making them the most environmental-friendly denizens of Planet Earth.
The second annual survey conducted by the National Geographic Society and international polling firm GlobeScan on environmentally sustainable behaviour, the results of which were released on Wednesday, showed that Indian consumers have overtaken Brazilians to take the top spot with a Greendex score of 59.5. The Chinese retained the third spot with 55.2. At the bottom of the ladder in the 17-country survey are over-consumptive Americans (43.7), Canadians (43.5) and Japanese (49.3).
So, what has put Indians at the top of the Green ladder? It was driven by above-average performance on all four sub-indices, including first-place rankings for food and goods. Indians are the most frequent consumers of self-grown food, with 35% eating what they grow several times a week or daily. Desis are also the least frequent consumers of beef, which requires greater energy to grow—only 22% consume beef weekly compared to an average of 63% for the 17 countries surveyed.
Indian consumers also topped the goods sub-index score. Their top status is due in part to having lower-than-average rates of ownership of large appliances and electronics. Also, the rate of those buying used goods, avoiding environmentally unfriendly products and excessive packaging, and buying environmentally friendly products is the highest.
Indian consumers continue to rank third on the transportation sub-index, based on the fact that they are second-most likely to live close to their usual destinations and second-least likely to own a car or truck (54%). Among those who drive, Indians tend to have lower-than-average annual mileage rates. Besides, they are the most likely to own and use motorcycles or scooters and second most likely to drive a compact car, after the Mexicans. In addition, walking or riding a bike is up seven points from the past year (to 57%).
As regards housing, Indians rank second only to Brazilians. Factors contributing to their high ranking include a low incidence of having home heating (41%) and hot running water (38%) and a high incidence of using on-demand electric water heating (45% among those with hot running water), and using solar energy to heat water (15%).
However, there are plenty of signs that India's Green-ness, which seems driven more out of compulsion than conviction, may not last long. According to the study, Indians are the most likely to say that they intend to acquire a motorised vehicle in the next year (58%). There is also declining frequency of consumption of local foods, fruits and vegetables and an increase in the consumption of imported foods and bottled water. India is also the only country surveyed experiencing increased bottled water consumption.
Indian consumers' attitudes showed their divergent and conflicting views on the environment. As a group, they express above-average concern about the environment. As for their personal contribution to environmental problems, they say they are trying hard to reduce their own negative impact and are paying more attention to environmental issues. At the same time, many agree that environmental problems are exaggerated and that the Green movement is a fad. Indians have faith in the government, industry and new technology to help solve environmental problems, but express below-average faith in the ability of individuals to make a positive impact.