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    Poll on Brazilian Attitudes Regarding Sustainable Consumption

    By Keith R | March 30, 2007

    Topics: Consumer Protection, Corporate Social Responsibility, Energy Efficiency, Environmental Protection, Personal Choices, Waste & Recycling, Water Issues | No Comments »

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    The Foundation for the Defense of the Consumer of São Paulo State (Fundação de Proteção e Defesa do Consumidor – “PROCON-SP“) has just released the results of a recent survey it conducted on the attitudes of Brazilian consumers regarding “sustainable consumption and living.” PROCON is the state consumer protection agency created in 1976, a full fifteen years before Brazil adopted its Consumer Code (Código de Defesa do Consumidor – CDC).

    The survey is not scientific (but PROCON-SP does not pretend that it is):

    That said, the results are still worth checking out, contemplating and discussing. If, as I suspect, most of the respondents are educated, internet-savvy paulistas of the middle and upper classes, and their responses were as outlined below, then Brazil still has a ways to go in environmental education.

    But some of the answers suggest that in Brazil — well, in SP at least — consumers are becoming more aware of the environmental impact of their personal choices. [I would suggest further, more careful and scientific surveying to confirm just how typical (or atypical) these results are.] Consumer product companies targeting the large SP market would be advised to take this into account in the product development and marketing strategies.

    In each of the pie graphs that follow drawn from PROCON’s report, blue signifies “always,” red “never” and yellow “sometimes.”


    Packaging. Many products sold in the Brazilian market now carry an indication of the material or materials their packaging is made of and whether or not it is recyclable. Several states now have laws with special rules on nonreturnable packaging, and there are a number of proposals at municipal, state and federal levels to require recyclability and/or recycling of nonreturnable packaging. And let’s not forget that Brazil has become one of the world’s biggest recyclers of aluminum cans and PET containers.

    Do you think about the recyclability of your product's packaging? (click to enlarge)In the graph at right (click to enlarge), the survey asked “Quando você compra um produto, procura saber se a embalagem é reciclável?” (“When you buy a product, do you check that the packaging is recyclable?”). A thin majority (51.53%) say they don’t, most of the rest say that they only check at times. Actually, to a North American or European audience, that response might sound bad, but I find it encouraging in the Latin American context to find almost half of consumers anywhere even occasionally think about the recycling of their product’s packaging. That is an improvement, believe it or not.

    Do you seprate your recyclables? (click to enlarge)Trash Separation. A growing number of Brazilian cities have introduced what is known in Brazil as “selective collection” — a system where trash service consumers are asked to sort out their recyclables to be picked up separately from the nonrecyclable waste.

    In the graph at right (click to enlarge), the survey asked “Você separa o seu lixo reciclável (como vidro, lata, papel, plástico, etc.)?” (“Do you separate your recyclable trash (such as glass, cans, paper, plastic, etc.)?”). Only 41% said that they never do, which is a surprisingly low figure, and 36% said that they always do (which is surprisingly high for a LAC audience).

    Spent Batteries. A 1999 national regulation requires battery vendors to take back spent batteries and electrochemical piles (pilhas, or what in US we would call common household batteries) and for manufacturers/importers to arrange for their collection and proper recycling, treatment and/or disposal if they contain certain amounts of cadmium, lead or mercury. The President at the time, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, even made a radio address to the nation urging consumers to save and turn in their spent batteries and piles rather than throw them in the trash bin. Have Brazilian consumers gotten the message?

    In the graph at right (click to enlarge), the survey asked “Costuma retornar as baterias usadas para o fabricante?” (“Are you accustomed to returning used batteries to the manufacturer?”). Most (nearly 56%) replied “never,” and only a little more than quarter insisted that they always do.

    Do you avoid littering the beach? (click to enlarge)Beach Litter. Brazil is one of the biggest and most faithful participants in the annual International Coastal Clean-up Day, and groups such as Instituto Ecologico Aqualung organize several other beach clean-ups throughout the rest of the year. So how conscious are paulistas about the need to keep their beaches clean?

    In the graph at right (click to enlarge), the survey asked “Quando você vai à praia, preocupa-se em jogar o lixo no latão disponível ou, não havendo, leva-o para casa?” (“When you go to the beach, do you concern yourself with throwing trash in the available bin, or if there isn’t one, carrying the trash back home?”). Here the overwhelming majority 90% responded that they do avoid littering beaches.

    Rational Use of Water and Electricity

    Do you brush your teeth with the water off? (click to enlarge)Wasting Water. Brazil has areas where water supplies can become tight during the year, but (so far) SP is not one of them. In the graph at right (click to enlarge), where the survey asked “Você costuma deixar a torneira aberta enquanto escova os dentes?” (“Are you accustomed to leaving the faucet open while you brush your teeth?”). Some 69% responded that they never do, which is an astonishingly high rate.

    Do you shower more than 10 minutes? (click to enlarge)In this second graph (click to enlarge), the survey asked “O seu banho passa de dez minutos?” (“Does your shower go over ten minutes?”). Only 19% responded that they avoid long showers. This is unfortunate, not only because of the water wasted, but also because of the large number of power-hungry electric shower heads used in Brazil to heat the water.

    Do you leave the lights on? (click to enlarge)Wasting Electricity. In a third question, the survey asked (click to enlarge) “Você deixa a luz acesa quando sai de um ambiente?” (“Do you leave the light on when you leave an area?”). Most (52%) insisted that they never do. I personally know many Brazilians that are good about turning off lights, especially after the power shortage a few years ago. Not certain I believe the percentage is that high among the average citizens in the street, however.

    Do you iron many clothes at once? (click to enlarge)In the graph at right (click to enlarge), the survey asked “Você junta uma grande quantidade de roupas para passar?” (“Do you iron a lot of clothes at the same time?”). 71% claimed that they do.

    Corporate Social Responsibility

    More and more Brazilian firms are becoming involved in that country’s “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) movement, joining organizations such as Instituto Ethos and/or the local affiliate of the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, the Conselho Empresarial Brasileiro para o Desenvolvimento Sustentável (CEBDS). Is that having an impact on how the Brazilian consumer selects his/her products to purchase?

    Do you care if the product manufacturer is environmentally & socially concerned? (click to enlarge)In the graph at right (click to enlarge), the survey asked “Quando escolhe seus produtos, você se interessa em saber se a empresa tem preocupação ambiental e social?” (“When you pick your products, are you interested to know if the company is environmentally and socially concerned?”).

    The interesting thing here is that a majority said that they do want to know — about 22% always do, 34% consider it occasionally. If that result would hold for the rest of Brazil (a big “if”), it represents a major shift in Brazilian consumer attitudes. Maybe the companies joining Ethos and CEBDS are on to something…

    — Keith R

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