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China Skinny’s Mark Tanner explains Chinese consumers’ desire to live more sustainable lives and support sustainable brands.

Can you name one event in your lifetime that has shaken the world more than Covid?

The world has forever-changed since early-2020. Whereas many of Covid’s consequences have been negative, there have been some silver linings which will hopefully stay with us long after the face masks and vaccine passes have gone.

One of the consolations of the pandemic, is that most people have been forced to stop their routines and reflect about what is important to them. For many Chinese consumers, that has seen a marked uptick in being kind to others and the planet. This is noted in the increase in sustainability awareness and charitable behaviour.

There are dozens of studies illustrating Chinese consumers’ desire to live more sustainable lives and, feeding into that, support sustainable brands. Seventy-two percent of Chinese respondents buy from companies that are conscious and supportive of protecting the environment, according to a survey last year by PWC.

Similarly positive, Chinese donated 18 percent more money through online platforms last year than in 2020. More than 500 million Chinese consumers made philanthropic transactions through Tmall and Taobao platforms, supporting 2,450 charitable projects organised by 214 philanthropic institutions.

Brands looking to support these trends would be wise to understand their unique dynamics in China.

A Stifel study in April echoed many studies in concluding that Chinese place higher importance on sustainability than their US and European counterparts. Yet that importance doesn’t yet translate to many consumers’ willingness to pay a premium for green credentials.

Just 18 percent of Chinese consumers say they would pay over ten percent more for green brands, compared to 26 percent of US consumers, 23 percent of Brits and 28 percent of Germans.

The brands that have been most effective in China in supporting sustainability are not those who have tried to justify a premium through their sustainability. The most successful brands have been focused on building brand preference and drawing consumers in with engaging and entertaining sustainability-related interactions.


Educating consumers

KFC China provides a good example of how to educate consumers about sustainability, while making it effortless and fun to play their part. In a campaign last December, the fast-food chain helped inform consumers about how to practice low-carbon behaviour when consuming KFC products. Part of this saw KFC introduce a green rewards program, which encouraged and incentivized behaviour such as mobile ordering and in-store pickup, and opting out of using disposable cutlery. The company also used the campaign to launch their first carbon-zero product, an oat drink.

More than 28 million members participated during the three-week campaign, which was good for sales as well as the environment, and it lowered their costs at the same time.

Similar to sustainability successes, a big driver of the growth in Chinese consumers’ philanthropy is that it is simple to make a donation through mobile payments – which virtually every consumer uses – on the platforms they are already on such as a Tmall and Taobao. This rising willingness to support charity, also reflects the increasing appetite to engage with brands who also support good causes.

The lessons on resonant sustainability and philanthropic initiatives also apply to many other areas of marketing in China. Brands should understand what elements are important to Chinese consumers and the relevant pain points to enable them to deliver initiatives that are simple, convenient, engaging and fun.


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Glenn Baker

Glenn is a professional writer/editor with 50-plus years’ experience across radio, television and magazine publishing.


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