FRIDAY, February 23, 2024
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Unlocking Consumer Perspectives on Sustainability

Unlocking Consumer Perspectives on Sustainability

An Exclusive Interview with Richard Cope, Senior Trends Consultant at Mintel

As sustainability takes centre stage on the global agenda, the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region is no exception. To delve into consumer attitudes toward sustainability, we had the privilege of sitting down with Richard Cope, Senior Trends Consultant at Mintel, the world's leading market intelligence agency. In this exclusive interview, we explore sustainability dynamics, shedding light on how individuals in Thailand and the broader region perceive and respond to environmental concerns.

The undeniable global surge in sustainability awareness and action has significantly impacted the APAC region. Escalating climate and environmental concerns are propelling the demand for sustainable practices. Can you provide a succinct overview of the key sustainability trends in the APAC region and how they have evolved over the past five years?

In APAC, the prevailing trend mirrors global sustainability shifts—a significant surge in awareness around sustainability and its challenges. This heightened awareness is reflected by consumers acknowledging climate change's impact on their country. Over the past three years, there has been a substantial increase in APAC consumers recognising their nation's vulnerability to climate change. For example, in Thailand, this recognition has risen by around seven percentage points, with 55% now agreeing that their country is “suffering from climate change”. 

This trend extends beyond Thailand and is rooted in firsthand experiences of extreme weather events and climate challenges. These events have made climate change a pressing, tangible threat, increasingly seen as a public health concern in APAC, particularly in Thailand, where its consequences are perceived as detrimental to well-being. This shift in perspective makes sustainability more immediate and relatable.

Unlocking Consumer Perspectives on Sustainability

 

To what extent do individuals in Thailand and the broader APAC region demonstrate awareness of climate activism, and how has this awareness influenced their understanding and commitment to environmental issues?

Let’s put it in a wider context; in the UK, Germany, and the US, many see disruptive protests as illegitimate and support penalties for activists targeting consumer markets. In contrast, Thailand faces less activism-induced disruption. Climate activism is growing in APAC, with 61% in Thailand considering it a valid protest form, though 50% believe disruptive eco-activists should face penalties. This highlights the evolving relationship between climate activism and public opinion.

One key effect of climate activism is its role in raising environmental awareness. In Thailand, 74% credit eco-activism for improving their understanding of issues like deforestation and fossil fuel emissions.

Do Thai consumers exhibit a heightened focus on specific sustainability issues identified in your research when compared to consumers in other APAC countries?

Sustainability concerns vary, but some common threads emerge in the APAC region. We ask people about their top three environmental concerns, and air quality and chemical contamination are a much higher priority than in other regions. These issues deeply resonate in Thailand, and air pollution is a top three concern for 54% of Thais, second only to China (with 58%). Interestingly, they express slightly less worry about deforestation and plastic pollution than their regional peers.

Despite these concerns, Thai consumers remain optimistic, with 65% believing there's still time to save the planet. However, only 39% think their individual actions can make a positive impact, indicating a desire for collective, government-led change.

 

Given the growing emphasis on sustainable transport and clean energy, what is your vision for the transition of the APAC region in these crucial areas?

The shift towards sustainable transportation and energy sources is gaining momentum, driven by several factors. Governments are increasingly recognising the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of these alternatives, making them attractive choices.

China is a significant player in this transition. Despite its substantial use of coal, China is making the biggest strides in renewable energy production, especially in solar capacity, where it is a clear global leader. This, and affordable electric vehicles produced in China, can provide a more sustainable future for the entire APAC region. The availability of affordable alternatives, such as electric vehicles and renewable energy technologies, contributes to the feasibility of moving away from fossil fuels. The affordability and accessibility of these options are key drivers of change.

Can government incentives, such as subsidies or tax breaks, effectively promote sustainable practices? What strategies can governments employ to incentivize individuals and businesses to adopt more sustainable behaviours?

Government incentives play a pivotal role in promoting sustainability. Subsidies for electric vehicles, for instance, have proven successful in boosting adoption. Means-tested approaches, like France's, ensure these incentives reach those who most need them. France adapted its strategy, moving from a uniform fuel tax to personalised subsidies and incentives, fostering sustainable choices while addressing previously voiced social justice concerns.

Do you believe that incorporating gr labelling on products is essential to promote sustainable choices? How can these labelling elements be seamlessly integrated into sustainability initiatives for maximum effectiveness?

Clear and transparent labelling is vital. Consumers demand quantifiable data about a product's environmental impact, including information on water usage and carbon emissions during production. Contextualising these metrics is crucial, allowing consumers to compare a product to the average or track a brand's progress. 

The kind of colour-coded labels or scoring systems trialled in France (EcoScore and PlanetScore) offer a quick and intuitive way for consumers to gauge a product's environmental impact. These labels empower consumers to make informed choices and significantly influence their purchasing decisions. 

Do you think education plays a substantial role in advancing sustainability, and what strategies can be employed to enhance consumer awareness regarding the significance of sustainable practices?

Education is undeniably vital for promoting sustainable practices, going beyond basic knowledge to encompass a broader context of sustainability. Activists play a critical role by raising awareness about essential issues and holding governments and corporations accountable. They act as a bridge between complex environmental concepts and the public's understanding.

In the path to sustainability, consumers must see personal benefits regarding health, finances, or overall wellbeing. These non-environmental benefits can be potent motivators for change. Consumers are more likely to embrace sustainable practices as they grasp the broader implications - and positive personal benefits from efficiencies -  of their choices. Consumers need to understand where their impact matters most and how their choices can make a difference to themselves and the wider world.

 

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