What does sustainability mean to Asian consumers, and what should brands do?

Discover what matters to people in Asia, and where to play to help your organisation navigate the sustainability journey.
19 July 2021
Asia Sustainability
Trezelene Chan

Head of Sustainable Transformation Practice, Singapore

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It is now more important than ever to get Sustainability right. Our world is facing three pressing global challenges: the climate emergency, the loss of natural habitats, and growing inequality. Each of them, on its own, can endanger the safe operating space for humanity and the planet, as well as the licence to operate for business. It is time for businesses to act.

But on such an interconnected and complex topic, where do you even start? What are the issues that Asian consumers care about?

Kantar’s Asia Sustainability Foundational Study 2021, covering nine markets in the region (Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Japan, and South Korea), provides the latest findings to help brands uncover what matters to Asians and therefore where to play to help your organisation navigate the sustainability journey.

Which of the Sustainable Development Goals most concern Asian consumers?

You may be familiar with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a framework of 17 areas that captures the urgent call for action by all countries – developed and developing – In a global partnership. At Kantar we have used this same framework to understand what consumers care most about. We see that, in Asia, consumers care about 7 key issues in particular: Eradicating Poverty and Hunger, Good Health & Well-Being, Clean Water and Sanitation, and Environmental issues that span Climate Action, Life Below Water, and Life on Land.

58% of Asian consumers are personally affected by environmental problems

Our study found that the majority of Asians feel they have been personally affected by environmental issues, and that they are most concerned about as the specific issues of Water Pollution, Air Pollution, and Extreme Weather Events.

There are also concerns around social issues of Poverty, Hunger and Health & Wellbeing. Health concerns linked to healthcare, vaccines and protection against illness and disease have been heightened by the global pandemic that is still impacting the world we live in.

Faced with numerous issues, those closest to home take precedence

Consumers are faced with numerous issues around sustainability, but for Asian consumers, those closest to home take precedence. Taking a local approach to sustainability issues is critical. Your organisation cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach. The issues that consumers care about differ by market, and may be prioritised differently. This understanding is important, as it will allow brands to talk to local cultures, and deliver clear value and benefit to consumers.

Plastics appear to be less of a focus in Asia… although these are tied into bigger community issues

Ocean and Micro Plastics, and the environmental impact of packaging, are a widely discussed area of sustainability change. But looking at Asia, this is ranked as the 11th most pressing concern, contrasting to the UK where this is at the top spot – a significant difference in focus.

However, a closer look at the data shows that Asians do care about the issue of Plastics, but it is tied into broader community issues around water pollution.

So, what does that tell us? Well, whilst improvements in packaging are important, approaching plastics on its own will not necessarily resonate with Asian consumers unless the issue is tied to tangible results such as a reduction in water pollution.

53% of Asians have stopped buying products and services that have a negative impact on the environment and society

Sustainability is driving consumer choice, with more than half of Asians influenced on where not to spend their money based on the impact these products or services have on the environment and the society they live in.

63% of Asians don’t feel sustainability is their responsibility and it is up to organisations

Consumers want brands to embrace this new mindset and sensibility and help them in their journey. They are looking for social and environmental purpose. And the most active of consumers are influencing others to start thinking this way as well.

And that is why Sustainability is not just ‘here to stay’. It is a transformational force that will disrupt and, in some cases, destroy businesses – even entire sectors – and new pioneers will emerge as a result. Sustainability is the new Digital.

Click here more information on the report and how your organisation can start to take effective and informed steps to successfully navigate your sustainable journey.

Kantar’s Sustainable Transformation Practice brings together expertise and assets from across Kantar through a framework of six key pillars. This supports organisations across the spectrum of sustainability challenges in order to meaningfully define and powerfully activate sustainability strategy.

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