Ironically, however, consumers in countries with the highest Greendex scores and the least intensive cultures of consumption are the most likely to feel guilty about the impact that they have on the environment as consumers (see chart below).
At the same time, they feel least empowered to make a difference as individuals given the severity of the problems they witness daily.
Yet, between a fifth and a quarter of Indians, Chinese and Brazilians say that owning a "luxury car" is a "very important goal" in their life — a surrogate measure of material aspirations. These are the highest proportions anywhere we surveyed.
In contrast, those in North America and Europe feel most empowered, feel the least guilt, and yet register the poorest Greendex scores. Clearly, perspectives and behavior are discordant.
Consumer aspiration in developing economies is high, and these countries are also high-value targets for companies who have seen their returns plateau in the west. Is there an opportunity in the environmental consciousness and related guilt that we see among the growing middle classes of the South and the East to change the terms of the debate?
In the short term, we think there is. Guilt reduction got the green market segment off the ground in 1980s in the West but we failed to reach a tipping point. In the medium term, bigger challenges need to be conquered.
Companies will need to address and effectively communicate a meaningful minimization of impacts across product lifecycles. They will need to price in the cost of natural capital. Brands will need to sell more value and less stuff.
But in order to accomplish any of this, committed companies will need to help build trust in business, which is currently in short supply. Lack of corporate credibility on environmental responsibility is what holds us back from true systemic behavior change, GlobeScan's modeling finds.
If we're to help consumers get "unstuck" on the environment, companies need to get serious about building the credibility that they know what needs to be done, and are doing it.