Do men or women use more resources of the planet?

I’m not a big fan of gender based questions for I think most of them end up stirring a lot of dust, rather than solving any issues. Do you recall for example, the “intellectual tsunami” triggered by the question posed by Dr. Lawrence Summers, the Harvard Dean, “Are men’s brain are better hardwired for maths and science than women?”

I must admit though, that my curiosity was piqued when “The Tree hugger,” the venerable website of all matters green came up with the poser,“Are women greener than men?” No surprises then, that a flood of comments poured in, from the balanced to the emotional to the outright vitriolic ones. However, the post didn’t quite answer the question, so I ventured into a bit of research.

Women’s carbon footprint are smaller…

The 90 page report by Gerd Johnsson-Latham  for the Ministry of Sustainable Development in Sweden, analyses consumption patterns of men and women in rich as well as poor countries, and found that men, particularly those who are “rich” to be bigger users of the world’s energy resources, and leave a larger carbon footprint as they usually set infrastructure and political trends.
It also points to great gender differences in poorer countries where women have fewer options, resources, leisure time, and are more likely to give priority to the needs of others in the family.  Studies in Latin America and Asia show that many men spend a great deal (1/3–1/2) of their earnings on themselves before distributing what remains among their families.

According to the report, the way to achieve sustainable development “ is the need to reduce unsustainable consumption, including luxury consumption, while at the same time boosting unacceptably low consumption among poor people”

….but it depends. What happens when women do move up the economic ladder?

Would carbon footprints of women equal or surpass that of men as their economic wealth increases? Intuitively it seems that women, as they become more well off, have better choices, and are inclined to playing a larger role in influencing what to buy.

To delve deeper into this, I decided to step into the shoes of a marketing expert. Marti Barletta, President of Trendsight and author of “Marketing to Women: How to increase your share of the World’s largest market”says “Women are the no.1 market economic opportunity in America, the largest market segment in the world, the chief purchasing officers of just about everything consumer, corporate or small business- and most importantly, there is no close second.”

According to her book and other sources like Diversity Best Practices  &  Business Women’s Network:

- Consumer spending in the US accounts for 2/3rds of the economy and women in US households are estimated to make 85% of all household buying decisions
- In addition to traditional female categories of spending like beauty and hygiene, clothing and accessories where women make up for more than 90% of the share
-  Women are responsible for more than:
o 50% of all do-it-yourself purchases
o 51% of electronics and 66% of all home-computer purchases
o 80% of healthcare
o 60% of internet usage
o 50% of business travel and a majority of customer travel
o 50% of all auto purchases and influence 85%
o 70% of all privately held start-ups and small businesses over the last 15 years

So women in a rich economy like the US are no longer a niche, but the majority of the audience and have a larger influence on the purchasing decisions of products, even those that are stereotypically seen as a male preserve. I would imagine there is a similar influence in better off households in the developing countries as well.

If women do have a larger influence, would they be more inclined then to behave in a greener way or make choices that are environmentally friendly? I don’t have any conclusive surveys pointing to this at a consumer level. (If you come across one, please do share it with me).  One report suggests however that women managers are more environmentally conscious that males.

What does all this mean?

If all this presents confusing or conflicting views, one thing’s for sure. Whether you’re a man or a woman, it makes better sense to reduce one’s own footprint on the planet rather than point fingers. (How nice it would be for nation states to follow this logic too!) Macro-trends are one thing, but the important question is who’s really influencing the purchases of different products in one’s own household…and how best can one make better decisions by asking a few fundamental questions:

Do I really need the product in the first place?
Can it be obtained elsewhere- by borrowing or secondhand?
What are the materials and ingredients in its making? What do the labels really mean?
Can I get an alternative product which is less damaging to the environment and to my health in its usage?
Is it manufactured in a way that does not damage the natural resources of the place of manufacture and the health of the workers?
How far has it traveled to reach the supermarket shelf?


That’s EcoWALKing hand-in-hand!


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Posted by on Feb 3 2009. Filed under Carbon Footprint, Consumerism. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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