China slow to go green

19 April 2011

BEIJING: A "sustainability gap" exists between Chinese consumers' attitudes and activities when adopting green behaviour and buying eco-friendly products, a study has argued.

Ogilvy Earth, the specialist agency network, surveyed 1,300 people, and also conducted in-depth qualitative research using 24 families through a partnership with insights provider enovate.

In all, it found that under 25% of respondents thought they were capable of tackling issues relating to the well-being of the planet, partially as a consequence of the official $221bn "green" stimulus package in 2009.

"Chinese citizens generally view solving environmental problems as the role of government, and to some extent corporations, rather than a personal responsibility," the study said.

"Sustainability practices are seen as too costly, too inconvenient and therefore unrealistic and impractical for the lives of 'normal people'".

Over 25% of participants agreed businesses had an "obligation" to redress ecological challenges, but only 15% stated private sector players were taking meaningful steps in this direction.

Just 18.6% of the panel would limit the amount of goods they bought, not least due to efforts by the authorities to encourage domestic consumption and the ascension of many shoppers into the middle class.

More specifically, customers are making big-ticket purchases like air conditioning units and new cars thanks to a belief they are "entitled" to acquire them.

A further 55% of those polled asserted convenience was a central driver of their buying decisions, while a shortage of time and money were regularly referenced as reasons for not pursuing eco-friendly habits.

Elsewhere, 53% mentioned that products boasting strong credentials in this area are simply too expensive at present, acting as a major disincentive to change.

A parallel difficulty revolves around a "trust deficit", as the range of competing claims and certifications engender confusion instead of adding clarity.

Perceptions of individuals at the forefront of this movement also vary from descriptions of "idealists" who are passionate about the cause to those seen to be using "eco-chic" as a "social badge".

However, shoppers typically have an accurate understanding of basic concepts such as carbon emissions and conservation.

Some 90.7% of interviewees perceived that sustainability was gaining ground, and 80% would enjoy receiving recognition from their peers if they adopted positive activities in this area.

Another 78% desired guidelines on living an environmentally positive lift rather than be compelled into certain behaviours as a result of legislation.

Similarly, 69% expressed greater purchase intent concerning ecologically-sound products available at prices matching existing brands, and 71% proved willing to pay a premium of up to 10% for these items.

Meanwhile, 65% may become increasingly green if people in their community did the same.

Among the suggestions forwarded by the study was tapping "mainstream" trends which already meet beneficial purposes, like riding bikes, sleeping on straw mats in summer and carrying a water flask.

Promoting goods and services performing well in this field is equally vital, alongside closely aligning innovation to green goals.

Taking a personal, conversational approach, offering incentives and encouraging collaboration could also alter attitudes.

Data sourced from Ogilvy Earth; additional content by Warc staff