Pardon the pun, but the need to act on sustainability leadership is hotting up. There’s an accelerated urgency in APAC as, for example, Australia, Malaysia and Thailand drown in floods, and Singapore runs cooler than a sweltering London summer. Collectively, as marketers, we have the power to drive change. Consumers expect it, and it is absolutely within our sphere of influence. We must all make sustainability our top corporate priority despite post-pandemic inflationary disruption. People don’t see economic issues in a vacuum — sustainable issues are very prominent.
Socio-economic progress in APAC is now inextricably linked to climate change
We’re projected to become the world’s wealthiest region by 2030 with an expected delivery of half of global consumption growth. But APAC is also most vulnerable to the climate change impact of this economic progress, notably on the disproportionate number of people living in poverty who bear the risks on their environments, communities, and livelihoods.
As part of Kantar’s 2022 Sustainability Sector Index
, we spoke to over 11,000 APAC consumers about sustainable living, the issues they believe businesses have the right to tackle, and how brands can help people modify their behaviours. Overall, environmental issues concern all generations led by air pollution, improper disposal of hazardous waste, water pollution, and greenhouse emissions. Social issues are also important (reducing economic inequalities on work rights, sufficient living wages, and child labour and worker exploitation), but younger people are also worried about mental health. But overwhelmingly, the Index reveals APAC’s sustainability concerns are rooted in what impacts people directly, so it’s important to frame big issues around what affects local communities. And in the current era of inflationary disruption, mainstreaming pricing is critical.
Shoppers want affordable price points to convert their sustainable intentions into action
Despite 98% of people wanting to live a sustainable life, the rising cost of living is preventing the seven in 10 who want to do more by acting on their good intentions (67%). Two-thirds of people claim that those products are more expensive (66%). Just two in five people who are ‘struggling’ with their household budgets now actively seeking brands that offer ways to offset their environmental impact (40%) compared to the two-thirds who are financially ‘comfortable’ (65%).
29% of consumers in APAC are among the most active when it comes to sustainability. Almost eight in 10 of APAC’s “actives” — those prepared to spend more time and effort to reduce their impact on the planet — are feeling the rising cost-of-living on maintaining their sustainable lifestyles (77%).
The transformational opportunity is to mainstream sustainable options by delivering prices that prevent sustainability being a luxury for the wealthy, given seven in 10 want to be able to buy environmentally sustainable products and services, according to our recent Global Issues Barometer
. And while there will always be premium segments, affordable price points will help shoppers convert their intentions into action — so start by mainstreaming and collaborating across the entire value-chain to drive economies of scale. By offering a sustainable product that more people can afford, you can help your brand grow value now and in the future. Remember, people expect businesses to act on a range of sustainability issues. And rather than thinking about the sustainable transition as purely a risk management exercise, don’t overlook the commercial opportunity – not only in terms of driving efficiencies (although that will make for better-run businesses) but also of revenues and profits.
It's time to convert your macro agenda into a brand strategy that connects with consumers
There’s a large gap between connecting the United Nations sustainable development goals (SDGs), a progressive business model, and executing a relevant, meaningful brand purpose. SDGs are broad and all-encompassing and don’t automatically give you a right to play in a sector so efforts can be perceived as greenwashing.
Getting this juncture right is important and is where your macro lens is key. High rating brands on Kantar’s 2022 Sustainability BrandZ Index
grew brand value by 31% year-on-year, ahead of the average year-on-year growth for Top 100 most valuable brands (23%).
So, consider your:
• Business: what are the established priorities and relevant sector issues you can champion?
• Brand: this is your greatest asset. It’s how you show up to the world. Your strategy needs to make sense with your brand’s legacy, positioning and personality.
• Customer: what matters to them and how are they experiencing issues in their lives?
A strong strategy will sit at the intersection of all three, but opportunities will differ by sector. Get this ‘consumer licence to operate’ right for valuable, meaningful consumer connection.
To grow brand value, identify the fuels and frictions of changing consumer behaviours
This is imperative to closing the value-action gap — the difference between someone’s desire to be sustainable and their ability to actively change their behaviour to achieve that lifestyle. And in APAC, of the 98% of people who want to live a sustainable lifestyle, just 17% are able to actively change their behaviours. So how do you effect change? Well, for example, to enable a large number of people to address waste, consider reusable/refillable products or those made from recycled materials or using minimal packaging.
But merely identifying the biggest gaps is not enough to help consumers adapt their behaviours. Be brave and invest in understanding their fuels and frictions and then make it easy, meaningful, and rewarding for them to make more sustainable choices and choose your brand. And to increase meaningfulness and cement the behaviour, you must deliver on the promise and reinforce the behaviour across all engagement points. But remember, not all consumers are on the same journey towards sustainable living, so keep this context in mind.
The time to move from ambition into brand action is now
It’s positive to see many brands already doing a great job. Take Coca-Cola, whose action on recycling is beautifully communicated in this Ladybird ad
. It focuses on collective responsibility conveyed through teamwork reiterated in the tagline, ‘With a little help, we can make a big change.’ This reassures that we’re all in it together to take care of the planet. Key psychological levers include nature connectedness, the bottle label corresponding to implementation intentions (‘I can become another bottle when you recycle me. Thanks!’). And the simple adding of ‘thanks’ is a powerful nudge. Finally, these visceral scenes reinforce a sense of mastery — our own ability to contribute to sustainability.
• identifying your category’s sustainability landscape and audiences
• revealing your customer attitudes toward sustainable living
• quantifying their key value-action gaps and highlights the fuels and frictions to adoption
• unpacks the different sustainability audiences (actives, believers, considerers, dismissers)
Trezelene Chan, head of sustainability, APAC, Kantar
A leading APAC sustainability expert, Trez is passionate about helping brand owners understand what matters to consumers and how to navigate their sustainable transformation. She thrives on building purposeful brands, introducing innovative solutions to unlock behavioural change and activating impactful measurement programs to sustain growth.