Inside China: Sustainability
Sustainability is more than a buzzword. It has become a new way of doing business and an integral part of many mission statements. Authentic sustainability credentials, consistent with a brand’s positioning, create brand value through differentiation and meeting customer demand. However, navigating sustainability in a huge market like China can be a real challenge, so let’s consider sustainability through a local lens and see how brands are navigating this space.
Cultural Attitudes towards Nature:
There is a deep-rooted respect for nature in all religions in China, not just in the Buddhist roots but also Dao & Christianity. Historically, the Chinese have lived in harmony with nature, however there is also a deep-seated fear or respect for the power of nature. China is no stranger to acts of God and have learned to live with phenomena such as sandstorms in Beijing, cold winds from Siberia, earthquakes & floods. Everyone is affected whilst army & rescue workers who save people, die as heroes.
In China, there is a great belief in Action & Consequence or Karma as we might otherwise call it. The Chinese picked up the concept of karma when they translated the Sanskrit texts into the Chinese Tripitaka, containing both early material from Buddhism and some later additions. The Chinese word is: 業 or 业 (Pinyin: yè)
Action & Consequence applies strongly to sustainability. If the environment is not looked after, nature will return, and the consequences will be faced.
Role of Government & Individuals:
In this context, there is great pressure on everyone to do their bit and make efforts to care for the environment. The government protect areas by giving them purpose e.g. farm, nature, conservation & have improved air pollution greatly. Families take part in activities as a group and as a community to care for the environment around them by, for example, replanting lots of trees.
Industrialization & Consumerism:
Since the late 1990s, the speed of industrialization has also impacted attitudes to sustainability. Consumers are encouraged to buy new products rather than replace or upcycle, products are made with an intentionally shortened lifespan, corners are cut in the manufacturing process and employees can be exploited. Unsurprisingly sustainability claims can be questioned.
Moreover, consumer needs are also not always genuinely driven by ethical choices. Short term satisfactions, habitual choices and marketing campaigns can contradict the importance of sustainability. For example, the resident of Shandong who chooses to buy their lobsters from Canada or Australia rather than the local dealer is certainly prioritizing taste or status over the lobsters’ carbon footprint.
What can brands do?
It is easy to be pessimistic, however brands are using innovation & technology to step up, influence and lead consumers in sustainability.
Local brands, targeting those that adore Western industrially produced tastes, are producing a higher quality product through using ancient traditional craft methods for products such as peanut oil or soy sauce. The result, superior products of higher quality & taste – as well as less air miles!
Tech such as Super Apps such as Alibaba or Tencent are upping their game too, allowing third party apps to give more detail on the origin of ingredients and sustainability credentials, on their platforms. Food delivery apps are donating to eco initiatives or those in need. Whilst Alipay are leveraging gamification to raise the profile of nature protection. Each order can collect stars/points and then donate those rewards to initiatives such as planting trees in the desert or putting one’s name on a tree. The more points you get, the more you are offering back to the environment. Positive Action & Consequence!
Even in this new world, the same rules will apply. Brands’ products & services will have to offer quality products at a good price whilst being authentic on sustainability. All on top of seamlessly becoming part of the lifestyles & apps which their customers are already using. The need for brands to monitor attitudes & behaviours in their local environment has never been greater.
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