Corporate responsibility has often been depicted as a luxury: something that can be afforded in the affluent societies of North America and Western Europe, but less relevant in faster-growing markets facing more pressing economic issues.
We believe this analysis is out of date. Our research shows consumer interest in the social and environmental performance of companies and brands is as strong, or even stronger, in faster-growing markets, as in Western Europe and the US. In our view, corporate responsibility can no longer be considered a ‘nice-to-have’ for brands and businesses in any corner of the globe.
With our growing presence in the dynamic new markets of Asia Pacific, Latin America and beyond (accounting for almost 27% of our business in 2009), we are using our insights and creativity to help clients understand changing attitudes to environmental and ethical business issues in these regions and communicate on these complex subjects.
Here we highlight some of our recent thinking and examples of our work for clients.
Green Brands survey reveals consumer attitudes to green issues in Brazil, India and China
Since 2006, WPP companies Cohn & Wolfe, Landor Associates, and Penn Schoen Berland (PSB) have partnered to survey consumers on their attitudes to green issues. In 2010, the Green Brands survey included over 9,000 people in eight countries – Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, the UK and the US.
Globally, the survey found that consumers expect companies to take comprehensive environmental action. Over 60% of participants in all eight countries stated that they want to buy from environmentally responsible companies. Despite economic concerns, the majority of consumers said they planned to spend the same or more on green products in the coming year.
But while many environmental beliefs and behaviours are shared across different consumer cultures, others vary widely – and not necessarily in the way you might think. For example, consumers in Brazil, China, and India reported being more inclined to favour companies they consider green than their counterparts in France, Germany, the US and the UK.
Consumers in China, India, and Brazil also showed a willingness to spend more where necessary on green products, with over 70% of consumers in these markets planning to increase their green spend in the next year. Their counterparts in Europe and North America, however, are less inclined to pay more.
These results are interesting from a political perspective, since much of the global climate change discussion is focused on what these new economic powerhouses are willing to do to control their emissions. From a business perspective it shows that the market for green branding and green products may be even bigger than generally thought.
Sustainability in China
Interest in sustainability is growing in leaps and bounds in China, as people experience deteriorating air and water quality. Young or old, high or low income, between 84% and 88% of Chinese urban consumers said they try to avoid companies that harm the environment and professed a preference for green products. 54% of consumers say they recycle – a phenomenon driven as much by a traditional penchant for thriftiness as by environmental concerns.
They are fortunate to have a government that is listening. In terms of pure monetary value China’s $221.3 billion green stimulus package – allocated to green business and infrastructure, including environmental protection, transportation and power grids – is quite simply the largest in the world. There is a growing expectation that the government will create tougher environmental standards for corporations to adhere to; as well as providing support to help them adopt greener behaviour. The establishment of bike-sharing programs in Shanghai’s Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Zone, and across Wuhan city are good examples of the latter.
Environmental performance is a new issue for many business players. Individual companies may have limited understanding of the environmental agenda and minimal influence on the government or consumers. As a result we are seeing a slew of collaborative initiatives such as Cleaner Greener China, the China Greentech Initiative, and JUCCE (Joint US-China Cooperation on Clean Energy) entering the fray, trying to figure out how corporations can make a difference.
The green movement in China is a relatively young phenomenon. Much of it is reactionary and spontaneous. In 2007 in Xiamen, citizens went to the streets to demonstrate against a planned chemical plant, using the internet as their rallying platform. Other campaigners – such as journalists Wen Bo, who has lobbied against deforestation, and Liu Jianqiang, a former senior investigative reporter at Southern Weekend, China’s most influential investigative newspaper – are testing the limits of media freedom in their bid to raise public consciousness. They remain a select few, responding to specific events.
So, is there an opportunity for brands and marketers to engage with the growing interest in environmental protection? If sustainability in China is to become a mass movement, brands must do more than appeal to a committed band of eco warriors. Corporations must collaborate to put pressure on government to raise regulatory standards (some of which have roots in the previous century) and help lower the entry barriers for consumers. After all, it was only when the Chinese government began offering a subsidy of as much as 60,000 yuan ($8,700) to buyers of green vehicles did sales of hybrids take off. Zotye Auto, a local electric car maker in Hangzhou is offering its electric cars on a lease-only plan to customers, so that they can get comfortable with the idea before making a financial commitment.
Marketing and communications need to push the envelope beyond tokenism and event-based participation to a deeper engagement. They need to focus less on defending their environmental record and more on the opportunities they create for consumers to buy responsibly. Only then will a brand’s sustainability credentials become a true differentiator. It’s certainly possible – the URBN Hotel, Asia’s first carbon-neutral hotel, in Shanghai, has built itself a base of committed clients, in large part by giving them the opportunity to mitigate their carbon footprint. With 73% of consumers willing to spend more on green services in China, the opportunity seems like a no-brainer.
Executive director, Ogilvy & Mather Asia Pacific and lead, OgilvyEarth China firstname.lastname@example.org
Investing in Your Future
Ogilvy PR, Guangzhou
Investing in Your Future
In China many families are moving to the cities in search of employment and higher wages. A survey conducted by Prudential in 2004 showed that although women are often in charge of the finances in migrant families, they often lack basic financial knowledge.
Ogilvy PR in Guangzhou worked with the financial services company Prudential to develop and implement ‘Investing in Your Future’ in China, a financial literacy initiative which brings together Prudential’s female employees to share their knowledge with female staff from state-owned and private enterprises.
‘Investing in Your Future’ is a key part of Prudential’s corporate responsibility strategy and has helped to build its reputation as a responsible financial services company. Over the past six years, Ogilvy PR helped to organise and deliver a total of 55 financial literacy seminars in Beijing and Guangdong Province, reaching more than 11,500 female workers by the end of 2009.
On average, 93% of the audience felt the seminars were good to excellent, 89% felt they would be able to apply the knowledge and skills in their daily life, and 90% said they would invest or change the way they are investing to improve their quality of life. With the success of the campaign in China, the CR initiative has been extended to India, Malaysia and Vietnam.