Asian businesses missing the boat when it comes to green consumer concern

January 12, 2011
Asia Consumer survey

A number of surveys conducted in the region in the latter part of last year show a significant gap between consumer and business attitudes towards the environment and climate change.

In particular, business seems to underestimate consumers' willingness to dip into their pockets to buy green products and may be missing out on a huge market opportunity.

A study released in early January by TÜV SÜD Asia Pacific, a leading provider of testing, inspection and certification services, found that businesses in places like China and India are significantly underestimating customers' demand for green products and services.

TÜV SÜD Green Gauge 2010 compared consumer and business attitudes towards sustainable products and services in Singapore, India and China. It found 84 percent of consumers said they would fork out an additional 27 to 45 percent for green-certified products and services. Almost 96 percent of respondents in India said independent green certifications were important to their purchase decision. However, across the board business respondents said they felt only about 43 percent of consumers would pay up to 14 percent more

Chinese business managers estimated that 60 percent of consumers would pay more when in fact 94 percent of consumers polled expressed a willingness to pay a premium. An earlier study in 2010 by Synovate showed that more than 75 percent of Chinese consumers had bought green labeled products in the past 12 months.

This lack of awareness translates into lost opportunity for businesses in Asia. Companies are accustomed to catering to consumer demand for sustainability in the West, but in Asia, they're missing out, said Ishan Palit, CEO of TÜV SÜD Asia Pacific who presented the findings to reporters in Singapore.

"It does make genuine business sense to go green," said Chong Weng Hoe, chief executive officer of TÜV SÜD PSB. He added that businesses should clearly communicate the fact that their products and services are green.

Business interviews indicated that corporations are falling short on sustainability. Only 43 percent stated their companies offer green products or services, and an average of 74 percent of corporate respondents said that they were unaware of any sustainability policy at their company, either because there was no policy in place or because it had not been communicated.

In Hong Kong, a study released by local NGO Civic Exchange in October, 2010 showed that climate change had risen steadily among consumers in the list of "great concern" to personal health and well-being, from 11th place in 2001 to 2nd place in 2010, behind only polluted drinking water.

In contrast, a survey by Hong Kong's Climate Change Business Forum (CCBF) around the same time showed that although SME owners were aware of climate change and its effect on their businesses, 69 percent did not plan to make any investment in the coming three years on measures to mitigate the risk.