Greendex ranks 18 countries based on sustainability

Have you ever wondered whether or not your lifestyle is friendly to the planet? If so, you're not alone. Across the developed world, more and more consumers are trying to reduce their carbon footprint.

A new index, compiled annually by National Geographic and GlobeScan, measures the way consumer patterns are responding to environmental concerns. The collected information is then gathered into a comprehensive ranking system. For its part, Australia received a Greendex score of 50.4, putting it in 13th place for sustainability. New Zealand was not included in the study.

How is the score determined?

To determine each country's Greendex score, researchers surveyed more than 18,000 consumers. The researchers asked survey participants about their habits in a realm of different areas, including energy conservation, food purchases, transportation habits, preferences in terms of organic and conventional products, and environmental knowledge and attitude. They then used the survey results to rank the 18 countries they studied based upon consumers' responses.

How did other countries fare?

The countries researchers examined included Australia, India, China, the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil, South Korea, Argentina, Hungary, Russia, Mexico, Sweden, Spain, South Africa, Germany, France, Japan and Canada.

India came in first, pulling in a Greendex score of 61.4. In particular, the country received high marks for its housing, transportation and food choices. China was the second-most sustainable according to the index, though its overall score dropped between 2013 and 2014, with a large portion of that decrease being attributable to transportation choices.

On the other end of the list are the United States and Canada. The US was given a score of 44.6, and its consumer choices in most areas, including goods, food, housing and transportation. Canada came in second-last, though consumers purchased significantly more sustainable food products in 2014. The country's main downfall was its declining score in the area of housing.

Tips for being a more conscientious consumer

As countries work together to decrease their impact on the planet, there are a number of ways you can alter your behaviour and purchasing patterns to benefit the globe.

Transportation: The way we get around can have a meaningful impact on our environment. Single-ownership cars are a major source of pollution and carbon emissions – not to mention they disincentivise the development of sustainable, walkable neighbourhoods and cities.

Commit to going car-free if you live in a major city, or consider becoming a one-car family if you currently own multiple vehicles. There are plenty of other ways to get around, including public transportation, biking, walking and car sharing. You can carry anything you might need right on your person with a reusable bag.

Food: According to the Environmental Working Group's (EGW) database, meat production and shipping creates a significantly bigger carbon footprint than that of vegetables, fruits and legumes. Consider taking part in 'Meatless Mondays' or going full-on vegetarian. The caveat, though, is that you shouldn't replace your meat with processed foods. Instead, turn to fresh, local produce found at your local farmers market.

When you do eat meat, consider skipping lamb or purchasing a local, organic brand. Though it's a local favourite in Australia and New Zealand, it has the largest carbon footprint of any meat, according to the EWG.

Housing: When it comes to housing, you have two options: Keep the planet in mind when searching for your next home, or revamp your current house to make it more eco-friendly. In general, smaller homes in walkable neighbourhoods are more sustainable than large suburban dwellings. You might also want to change up your current light fixtures, appliances and energy sources in favour of high-efficiency options.