Sustainable consumption

Sustainable consumption in China: Are Chinese consumers ready to ride the green wave?

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In 2018, dairy company Yili Group released a report on sustainable consumption in China in which it mentioned that over 90% of Chinese consumers were aware of sustainable consumption and 70% were very conscientious of it. Awareness of eco-friendly consumption in China is increasing as sustainability and environmental summits and conferences are flourishing. In a recent Chinese survey, 53.8% of respondents stated that the main motivation for choosing environmentally and socially friendly products is ‘caring about the world and making both the environment and society better through individual actions’. A further 46.2% hoped that by consuming more sustainably would allow ‘the next generation to be able to have a sustainable living environment.’

A quick search for ‘sustainable development’ on the Chinese Wikipedia (Baidu Zhidao 百度知道) displays the top result: “For the sake of mankind itself and the survival of future generations, through many twists and turns and hardships, mankind has finally awakened from the concept of the opposition between environment and development.” Recognizing the possibility of coordination and unification between the two, and finally realizing that “there is only one earth”, mankind must love the earth, jointly care about and solve global environmental problems, and create a new development road for mankind to the future: the road of sustainable development.

How do Chinese consumers perceive sustainability

According to a report released by the China Chain store and Franchise Association, young people between ages 20 and 29 show the most interest and awareness in sustainable consumption whereas Chinese consumers of ages 30 to 49 have the strongest sustainable consumption ability. Sustainability-conscious Chinese consumers believe they should adopt a sustainable consumption in their daily life in domains such as transports, consumer goods and food. In the eyes of consumers, sustainable consumption is relatively diversified. When it comes to eco-friendly consumption in China, the five phrases that consumers think of most are waste classification (25.31%), recycling (23.78%), environmental protection (22.87%), low carbon emission (21.63%) and cooperative economy (20.60%). However, sustainability in China has a low proportion of consumption (20%). One of the main reason is the lack of theoretical knowledge and policy implementation.

The breakdown of sustainability-conscious Chinese consumers

Gender-wise, women have a slightly greater awareness of sustainable consumption than men. 91.1% of female consumers consider their consumption behaviour will help improve the environment, while male consumers account for 89.5%. Meanwhile, young people pay more attention to sustainable consumption than older consumers. Consumers aged 20 and below pay the most attention to sustainable consumption, accounting for 81.8%, while 76.5% of people over 60 are fairly concerned about sustainable consumption. Finally, the proportion of awareness on sustainability is much lower in first tiers compared to lower tiers. 47% of first tier citizens consider themselves sustainable consumer pioneers while the proportion is 98% and 69% respectively for second tier and third tier.

For first tier city residents, the pressure of work increases the threshold and time capital for practicing sustainability. First tier residents may also hold higher expectations and requirements for themselves on what it means to be a sustainable consumer pioneer.

Chinese are embracing the sustainable fashion concept

Sustainability-conscious Chinese consumers are most interested in sustainable fashion. According to a report on China’s sustainable consumption of clothes and disposal of used clothes, approximately 83% of the respondents chose environmentally friendly fabrics when buying clothes. In addition, more than 90% of the respondents said they would buy or rent clothes through second-hand stores and clothing rental platforms. Chinese consumers are looking for domestic and foreign sustainable brands that use eco-friendly and sustainable materials and brands that have work ethics. An increasing number of Chinese consumers are staying away from fast fashion and are following the concept of “less is more”.

High-end natural clothing brand Icicle is among the forerunners in Shanghai for sustainable fashion, with the philosophy ‘MADE IN EARTH’ Sustainable consumption
Source: Icicle, High-end natural clothing brand Icicle is among the forerunners in Shanghai for sustainable fashion, with the philosophy ‘MADE IN EARTH’

Does the price have an impact on Chinese consumer’s eco-concious buying decisions?

The price of sustainable products has always had an impact on the buying decision. However, its impact has lessened over the years. According to 2019 China’s sustainable consumption report, in 2018, 77% of consumers said that price affected their buying decision if the price of the sustainable product was higher than a “standard” product. Whereas in 2019, only 42.95% of consumers believed that the price would hinder their sustainable consumption. In addition, more than 70% of consumers expressed their willingness to pay higher prices for sustainable products, especially for clothing and clothing categories. Consumers would pay up to 10% more for a sustainable product.

KOLs are promoting eco-friendly consumption in China

Sustainability-conscious Chinese KOLs utilize their social media platforms like Bilibili, to attract people that are interested in sustainability but lack knowledge and guidance. They may share topics such as how to pursue a sustainable consumption, lifestyle and theoretical knowledge. Their audience is usually young and use social media. Since a typical Chinese consumer’s understanding of sustainable consumption and lifestyle is still not widely acquired, Chinese KOLs are able, through their content, to educate on eco-friendly consumption in China.

Chinese KOL who shared her sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle habits Sustainable consumption
Source: Bilibili, Chinese KOL who shared her sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle habits

Olivia Zhang is a Chinese sustainability KOL who posts her videos on her low waste and her eco-friendly lifestyle. In one of her top videos, Zhang shares 16 habits that she has adopted in her eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyle. Habits include not using disposable utensils such as coffee cups, use public transports, and recycling. The Chinese KOL also mentions other habits that she would like to pick up, such as bulk shopping and eating low carbon footprint food produced locally.

However, some viewers comment that some of those habits are difficult to follow in China. Practices such as recycling is not well implemented and use of plastic packaging is too widespread in China.

Are Chinese consumers willing to pay for eco-friendly consumption?

  • Awareness on sustainability in China has been growing in recent years, Chinese consumers are increasingly more aware of the concept of sustainable development. They are willing to adopt sustainable habits in their daily life.
  • Chinese consumers deem price as a factor in their buying decision, however it is becoming less important.
  • Sustainability-conscious Chinese KOLs play an essential role in educating Chinese consumers about sustainable development and lifestyle as knowledge is scarce.

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