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Sinha: the reds are greener

The common perception of China is a culture so hell-bent on economic growth that it doesn’t have time for the luxury of environmental awareness. That view needs to be revised if a raft of recent surveys of Chinese attitudes to the environment are to be believed.  Study after study has found that Chinese consumers are in fact significantly greener than their western counterparts when it comes to concern for the environment and preparedness to act on global warming.
As the number of Americans worried about climate change declines, Chinese consumers are undergoing a green revolution according to a survey by market research company Nielsen and Oxford University.  31% of Chinese consumers identify the environment as a higher priority than the economy, compared to 17% of U.S. consumers and 28% of UK consumers. The number of Chinese consumers who describe themselves as “very concerned” about the environment has increased in the last year from 30% to 36%.

“Interest in sustainability is growing in leaps and bounds in China, as people experience deteriorating air and water quality. Young or old, high or low income, between 84% and 88% of Chinese urban consumers said they try to avoid companies that harm the environment and prefer green products. And 54% of consumers say they recycle – a phenomenon driven as much by a traditional penchant for thriftiness as by environmental concerns,” said Kunal Sinha Executive director, of sustainability agency OgilvyEarth, China.

What’s more Chinese consumers claim that they will be even greener in the near future. According to another survey by Penn, Schoen & Berland reported in The Economist, the majority of Chinese consumers say that environmental concerns influence their purchasing intent. 69% expect to spend more money on green products in the coming year. This contrasts markedly with the US, where only 38% of consumers expect to increase their spending on green products in 2009, and the UK where just 33% will spend more.Yet another study by GfK Custom Research concluded that Chinese consumers are some of the most environmentally aware in the world. 67% consider environmental problems to be very serious in China, 42% list pollution as one of their main concerns.

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And when it comes to translating concerns into purchasing decisions, Chinese consumers lead the way. 65% of Chinese car owners say it’s important for their vehicle to be environmentally friendly versus just 40% of the global population.

Meanwhile according to research by Ogilvy Earth more people in China are dark green than consumers in the US. It found that 48% of Chinese consumers describe themselves as dark green compared to 16% in the US. Only 2 per cent described themselves as ‘not/anti green’ compared to 18% in the US.

This heightened environmental consciousness is not restricted to China. It also appears in other major developing economies. For example, consumers in Brazil and India reported being more inclined to favour companies they consider green than their counterparts in France, Germany, the US and the UK. Consumers in China, India, and Brazil also showed a willingness to spend more where necessary on green products, with over 70% of consumers in these markets planning to increase their green spend in the next year. Their counterparts in Europe and North America, however, are less inclined to pay more.

“Corporate responsibility has often been depicted as a luxury: something that can be afforded in the affluent societies of North America and Western Europe, but less relevant in faster-growing markets facing more pressing economic issues. This analysis is now out of date,” said Sinha.

He said that these results are interesting from a political perspective, since much of the global climate change discussion is focused on what these new economic powerhouses are willing to do to control their emissions. From a business perspective it shows that the market for green branding and green products may be even bigger than generally thought.

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