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Big city life may change residents' green outlook: study

People, especially with good jobs, living in large cities are more likely to engage in green activities, says a new study based on the world's fastest growing economy, China's environmental behaviour.

The study, the first to weigh employment and leadership while considering environmental behaviour, showed that the downsides of China's explosive urbanisation such as pollution and greenhouse gas emissions now are joined by an upside -- better environmental citizens.

The findings, published in the journal Environmental Conservation, showed that the city size -- especially the good jobs there -- influences citizens' pro-environment behaviours, like recycling plastic bags and sorting their trash.

"It is essential to study human behaviour because it directly affects the environment," said study author Jianguo "Jack" Liu, director of the Centre for Systems Integration and Sustainability at Michigan State University.

"As China is the world's fastest growing economy and cities are the economic engines with severe environmental challenges, understanding environmental behaviour of urban residents in China is particularly important," said Liu.

China, which surpassed Japan as the world's second-largest economy last year, is also the biggest polluter in the world.

For the study, researchers used China's General Social Survey of 2003, in which some 5,000 urban people were asked specifically about their environmental behaviour.

The study conducted jointly by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and the Renmin University of China found that it was the behaviour that ultimately counts to conservationists.

People who live in larger cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin showed significantly more of this green behaviour than people in smaller cities, the study found.

But, study co-author Xiaodong Chen emphasised that it's about employment -- not money -- a finding that flies in the face of some traditional thought that pegged green attitudes as a luxury of the fiscally comfortable.

"You don't have to be rich to consider environmental issues," said Chen. "Even if people are poor and their material needs are not as well met, they still consider the environmental quality because those people may be threatened more by environmental problems."

The workplace seems to be a strong leader in environmental education, a dynamic that may be particularly powerful in China, which has a tradition of policies and regulations being shaped from the top down.

Employers, with their accompanying status and political power, are also proving to be powerful drivers of conservation and those workers who are workplace leaders report the most environmentally friendly behaviour, the study found.

Chen said companies in big cities have more resources to promote environmental initiatives, such as education. He also said people who live in the largest cities are more widely exposed to media reports about the environment.

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