Redefining Sustainability in Asia: Rise of ‘Aspirational’ Consumers

Originally published for K Magazine, GlobeScan CEO, Christophe Guibeleguiet, takes a look at how Asian consumer attitudes to business in society are changing and the need for companies to balance opportunity with responsibility. Divided into a 3-part blog series, our first post looked at trust, optimism, and extending corporate leadership in Asia, our second on health and safety issues, while this post will look at the rise of ‘Aspirational’ consumers.

In the first part of this blog series, we looked at the growing trust in corporations amongst Asians, as well as the optimism many Asians have about improvements in economic wellbeing over the next 20 years. We followed it up with a more critical look at environmental and public health concerns across Asia.
While companies need to respond to these growing concerns and demand for action on the environment, product quality, and corporate citizenship, there are also opportunities for more responsible, sustainable products and services.

Green consumers alive and well

We have observed that low carbon consumer behaviour is rising in emerging economies such as China, India and Indonesia. Asked what, if anything they have done over the past year to reduce climate change, increasing numbers of consumers in these countries volunteered that they had bought energy-saving light bulbs or low-energy appliances. Meanwhile, these same behaviours have dropped away in industrialised countries such as the US, UK and Germany since 2009. (See chart to left)

Win-win opportunity with the ‘aspirationals’

The nature of this opportunity is captured in a large and powerful new segment of the Asian urban consumer market called the ‘Aspirationals’. Identified in research by GlobeScan, BBMG and SustainAbility, these Aspirationals are uniting style, social status and sustainability values (environmental and social) to redefine ethical consumerism. They are characterised by their love of shopping, desire for responsible consumption and trust in brands that act in the best interests of society. Given their numbers (more than 40% of urban consumers in China and India – see infographic below) and upward mobility, they are more likely than others to shape the societal norms in their countries.
The Aspirationals represent an opportunity for brands in Asia to re-define themselves with consumers. Companies offering the right blend of quality products and authentic social and environmental policies, and communicating corporate responsibility effectively, will be well-placed to succeed in Asia (and to help drive the sustainability agenda forward.)
China will be one of the most important, if not the most important market of the coming century. Not only will improved standards and a new role for business in society help transform the working culture, supply chains and product quality directly for over a billion consumers, the knock-on effects for the rest of the world will be profound.