Earth Day: Sustainability and Chinese Consumers in 2021
As COVID-weary Western nations drift into the early stages of an unsettled transition “back to normal,” a deeper understanding of sustainable growth and Earth Day’s relevance has taken root in the public mind. Global brands, therefore, are focused more than ever on enhancing sustainability programs to appeal to consumers’ preferences.
Environmental awareness, global health concerns and other sustainability-related subjects are similarly buzzing in China, with local and global brands alike marketing newly developed products and concepts to increasingly-aware Chinese consumers.
But what does the concept actually mean to consumers in China? What are the differences in resonance across countries and regions?
To answer these crucial questions, C2 Global surveyed 1,124 consumers in China in April of 2021 (all of whom indicated that sustainability issues influenced their purchase decisions) in order to determine exactly what they mean when they say that sustainability is important to them.
COVID Has Driven an Increased Desire for Healthy Living and a Focus on Quality over Quantity
In every survey we have done post COVID, Chinese consumers have cited the Pandemic as an instigator to adopt a healthy lifestyle — whether by seeking fresh foods, getting more exercise or paying attention to self-care. When it comes to sustainability, a desire for healthy living is also the driving factor in evolving opinions.
We have also seen evidence of an increased desire for higher quality products and movement away from overconsumption. This past Singles’ Day (The World’s biggest e-commerce ‘holiday’), Netease’s Yunxuan (e-commerce site) decided to not celebrate Singles’ Day at all, and instead encouraged Chinese consumers to buy what you love, but don’t overconsume.
Similar to REI’s, “Go Outside” campaign on Black Friday, this counter consumerism message resonates with its audience and communicates the company’s attractive culture in a competitive e-commerce industry.
Water Leads Environmental Sustainability Issues
Environmental issues often top the list of key issues for Chinese consumers when it comes to sustainability.
Our respondents cited Clean Water, Reducing Ocean Pollution and Tackling Climate Change as their three top environmental issues. The survey was conducted in April 2021, which coincided with heated discussion around the proposed release of treated Fukushima wastewater into the Pacific, which likely also brought the issue of Ocean pollution top of mind to Chinese consumers.
Employee & Labor Treatment are Far More Important Than Community Causes
Our survey respondents cited labor & employee treatment and equity as their top social causes – outpacing broader social causes such as disease management, children’s welfare or animal causes. Top social issues in the West such as diversity, LGBTQ issues and animal welfare ranked lower in priority for consumers in China.
When we segment out consumers 18-30 years old, the company’s positions on social causes is the top concern – signaling a shift in sentiment with the younger generation.
One company that has recognized the issue of employee treatment and is using it as a key corporate message is JD.com, which touts the high pay of its delivery drivers as one of the company’s key differentiators.
Chemical Dyes, Product Transparency & Quality are Top Criteria for Assessing Product Sustainability
When evaluating the sustainability of a product, survey respondents cited the use of chemical dyes as their top concern, followed by product transparency and high quality products that have a long life. Consumers also pay attention to product materials, seeking recycled materials and organic/biodegradable materials.
Food, Apparel, Footwear & Beauty are Top Sectors for Sustainable Product Interest
60% of our respondents are making sustainable purchase decisions in the food and beverage sector – the highest of all sectors. We also saw high rates of consideration in the apparel, footwear and beauty sectors.
Clean Beauty is Rising: Natural Beauty Ingredients are Most Sought After
Clean beauty has been one of the primary trends in the beauty sector in China for the last year. Driving this demand is the desire from Chinese consumers to have natural ingredients in their beauty products, and less chemicals.
Long Lasting Product Quality is Single Most Important Sustainability Attribute for Apparel and Footwear Products
We are seeing increased interest in sustainable apparel and footwear in China, with a focus on long-lasting quality, signaling a move away from fast fashion. Chinese sustainable brands such as Icicle, Klee Klee, Krop, REVERB by JNBY and many others are gaining traction in the market – fueled by interest in natural dye methods, recycled fabrics and sustainable materials.
We are also seeing popular accounts on Little Red Book, such as ReGeneration, that promotes sustainable fashion and lifestyle by replacing traditional materials.
Quality of Sustainable Products is a Bigger Potential Barrier Than Price
Survey respondents cited concerns about product quality as their top barrier to purchasing sustainable products, followed by price and worries about trusting the brand’s sustainability claims.
Chinese Consumers Are Willing to Pay a Price Premium for Sustainable Products
43% of survey respondents said they would pay a 10% premium for sustainable products, and 15% said they would pay a 20% premium for sustainable products.
As brands seek to market their sustainability stories and products to Chinese consumers, we recommend the following:
- Communicate any health benefits about your product upfront (if applicable)
- Focus on the sustainable aspects of your product more than the company’s sustainability practices and processes
- Highlight natural ingredients and types of dyes used
- Showcase your product quality and longevity
- Be transparent in your product ingredients and components