Some trends are more of a very long-term evolution that goes much beyond 2010, i.e. energy efficiency, legal requirements , etc.. as there are still holes in the system such as weak law enforcement, economic performance/environmental protection dilemma, etc…
However it is a pretty comprehensive list and Clownfish points out to some trends that will largely impact the way businesses will effectively communicate (or are already communicating) their sustainability performance, and how they will have to engage with their stakeholders. It includes:
- From greenwashing to green identification
Chinese consumers may soon become aware of the concept of greenwash – the deceptive use of green marketing. In Taiwan, 23% of the public already believe that claims about sustainability are just a new marketing technique (cyberone.tw 2008).
Some Chinese furniture companies have made ‘green’ claims and plastered unverified green labels all over their packaging. Yet officials have revealed that many items are actually a health hazard – far from the environmentally and socially responsible image that their advertisements would have you believe.
One way or another, companies that turn themselves ‘green’ overnight or simply use ‘green’ iconography will soon have to face the consequences. Consumers expect companies’ sustainability to be real and transparent, not a manipulative tool. At Clownfish, we believe that it is about creating compelling communications, underpinned by fact, with a clear call to action for consumers.
- From offline to online
Brands can no longer hide behind their TV ads or billboard posters because of the power of online search. Consumers can find information about anything, anytime, and they are actively seeking information about the brands with which they interact. In 2009, it is going to be increasingly important for brand image to match company behaviour. Blogs such as Tianya and Sohu, where people have open discussions about anything, anytime, often have more influence on consumers buying habits than a company’s advertising.
The recent claims made about harmful substances in Jonhson’s baby products have escalated, with some people even claiming adverse effects after using the products. Although the Chinese government has cleared Johnson’s name after careful investigations in March, the active bloggers of the world have spread the incident across the internet, damaging the brand’s reputation considerably.
So brands must use clear, genuine, and authentic messages that promote transparency. As this research hows there is a positive correlation between transparency and trust – It’s about being tangible.
- From external claims to internal change
The health and safety standards of products have always been a concern for the Chinese public and this concern is not going away anytime soon. In reaction to this, many companies have adopted marketing strategies to emphasise that their products are ‘natural’.
Clownfish predicts that this emphasis on nature will soon become intertwined with greater environmental and social impacts, that go beyond health and safety, such as carbon emissions, waste production or water usage. As the awareness around these issues grows, business models will start to change – not only for the good of the world, but also because they offer real business opportunities. Clownfish suggests that those companies that get ahead of the game and address their environmental and social impacts now will be the successful companies of the future.
- From company claims to external verification
Consumers no longer passively accept news and product information thrown at them by marketers, ads, or their peers. 64% of consumers want third-party verification of green claims according to the GfK-Roper’s 2007 report. Some partnerships are already developing between NGO’s and large organisations, for example Lenovo and five Chinese NGOs, McDonald’s and Greenpeace, and Coca-Cola and WWF. As this trend continues in 2009, there needs to be a balance between credibility and values for both the company and the NGO. This will help to retain the trust of consumers.
When it comes to comes to the increasing role and impact of NGOs in China (that Clownfish sees as “From NGO criticisms to active involvement”), I would be much more cautious as many NGOs (non-GONGOs) in China are still operating in grey areas where clear regulations are still lacking, and where trust and credibility with the public (consumers, media) is still a major issue.
Furthermore, it is also important to look at the Chinese government’s agenda for the years to come in order to define whether green will be a top priority for business willing to secure their license to operate (and profit) in China, or whether other issues might come first, such as access to healthcare, poverty alleviation, education, etc..
To be followed!
For those more interested in global trends, Clownfish as also published a set of trends for business in more developed market, here.
Original source: Cleaner Greener China
Credit Image: Michael Turek