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Green Consumption in China – Not Today, Maybe Tomorrow

Joel on April 26, 2011 - 8:13 am in Archive, Consumer Intelligence, Data & Facts

Multinational companies continue to leverage the Internet to reach Chinese consumers. These companies experiment with Chinese social media sites like RenRen (Facebook clone) and Sina Weibo (similar to Twitter) in addition to e-commerce platforms like Alibaba Group’s Taobao online marketplace. A key component of their marketing message to consumers often reflects that their business seeks to benefit China for the long-term, and is not just there to reap short-term profits.

In many cases companies emphasize that their products and production practices are environmentally friendly and beneficial for China. One example of a western firm adopting this approach is General Electric. Through GE’s ‘ecomagination’ campaign, the company recently produced a series of advertisements to promote the company’s environmentally friendly products. The advertisements associates western technology with Chinese traditional fortune telling characters called chaizi. To read more about this campaign I recommend checking out this article on ChinaSmack.

While companies like GE are beginning to highlight the greener side of their business, the mainstream Chinese consumers simply are not ready to listen. I was recently quoted in Reuters saying:

“The vast majority of China’s middle class are for the first time learning how to spend and join the consumption phenomenon that their counterparts in the U.S. and Western Europe have long enjoyed.”

From the consumer perspective, mainstream awareness of sustainable consumption will not reach fruition in the near future. This is primarily because not long ago Chinese citizen’s main concern was resolving what they refer to as the “wenbao wenti” or the basic problem of keeping your family fed with a roof over their heads. Rather than focusing on advertisements for green products, the emerging Chinese consumer prefers to pay attention to advertisements from luxury retailers that drive them to make more aspirational purchases with their discretionary income – so much so that the middle kingdom is expected to be the world’s largest luxury consumer market by 2015.

In developed markets eco-conscious consumers are divided into a number of categories like ‘eco-centrics,’ ‘eco-chics,’ and ‘economical ecos’ to name a few – in China there is a niche group of consumers who are just beginning to pay attention to the environmental impact of their purchases; however these type of consumers are few and far between. Mainstream Chinese consumers will focus on aspirational purchases in the short to mid-term, and will not begin focusing on green and sustainable consumption for many years to come.



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