Unpacking Asia-Pacific Consumers’ New Love Affair with Sustainability
The world’s consciousness for a widening range of environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) challenges is rising rapidly, and nowhere is it growing faster or more dramatically than in the Asia-Pacific region. Similar to their counterparts everywhere, consumer products executives who serve the area’s populous and expanding markets are now racing to figure out what it means for their businesses and brands.
To address these critical questions and scratch beneath the surface on Asia-Pacific consumers’ views on sustainability, we performed the most extensive research ever conducted on the issue. We surveyed more than 16,000 consumers across 11 countries and 7 consumer products categories, supplemented with more than 55 hours of deep-dive interviews. Our research helped bring the region’s consumers into sharper focus, debunking long-held myths in the process and bringing some of the unexpected challenges to the surface.
Understanding Asia-Pacific consumers’ new embrace of sustainability starts by tracking the broader global movement and how rapidly it is gaining momentum in the region.
Nearly 200 countries have now ratified the Paris Accord to limit global warming to 1.5°C, and more than 127 countries have now imposed taxes or bans on plastic bags. China announced restrictions on overpackaging in food and cosmetics starting in 2023, for example, and India is banning single-use plastics. Both Japan and South Korea have committed to a 2050 carbon neutral deadline, and Singapore has announced an ambitious green plan that calls for reducing waste sent to the landfill per capita per day by 30% by 2030, among other moves.
Sustainability is also an increasingly important issue for investors, with 78% of global investors saying that they place more emphasis on ESG now than they did five years ago and 65% believing that ESG will become standard practice over the next five years. Singapore requires all listed companies to provide climate reporting, and India has mandated that its top 1,000 listed companies do the same starting in 2023.
Just as swiftly, sustainability in its many dimensions has emerged as a key issue for employees. For example, in Asia-Pacific, 75% of employees now expect their companies to follow sustainable business practices.
But while regulators, investors, and employees are steadily clamoring for change, it is becoming clearer and clearer that consumers are a key force in the sustainability movement, which is broadening in scope to encompass a range of environmental threats as well as social, economic, and governance challenges—everything from product health impacts to racial equity to gender rights to food equality.
As one indicator of the increased consumer interest, consider that Google searches for ESG terms increased more than 20-fold in South Korea and more than 30-fold in Indonesia over the past five years. We asked consumers across the region to rank the relative importance of various purchasing criteria. Good for the planet ranked third, following health benefits and quality. Relative importance varies among regions. For example, Asia-Pacific consumers ranked health benefits as their top criteria; consumers in Europe ranked quality (see Figure 1).
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