Notable Sustainability Trends for Businesses Across Asia
Sustainability is no longer an optional practice but a fundamental shift that is reshaping global markets – and Asia being no exception. The diverse countries within the continent are adopting varying approaches, reflecting their unique cultural, social, and economic contexts.
From government policies to corporate initiatives across a range of sectors like Food and Beverage, Fashion, and Technology, understanding the breadth and depth of these sustainability trends is crucial for any brand looking to navigate the dynamic Asian market successfully.
Sustainability Governance and Trends Across Asia
Asian countries are each tackling sustainability in their own way, blending global trends with local needs and priorities. The variety in strategies and initiatives across the continent demonstrates diverse approaches to achieving sustainability, influenced by each country’s unique circumstances and challenges.
Environmental and Sustainability Policies In Asia
Asian nations have implemented various robust environmental policies, spanning national strategies to financial plans, aiming to support sustainability and achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Despite a significant number of these impactful policies, their actual efficacy and implementation level in some countries remain notably underexplored and perhaps underreported in official documents.
Future discussions and research in sustainability need to delve deeper into evaluating the real-world impact of these policies and ensure more transparent and detailed policy reporting to navigate and enhance the sustainability efforts effectively across the region.
Emerging Leaders Across Asia
- China: China has made notable strides in clean energy investment and deployment of renewable energy technologies. The nation has invested significantly in electric vehicle technology and infrastructure, pushing for a transition to electric mobility.
- South Korea: South Korea has established itself as a leader in smart grid technology, focusing on creating energy-efficient, sustainable power solutions.
- India: India has become a prominent player in renewable energy, particularly in solar power, with ambitious targets and substantial investments in solar projects Initiatives like the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) aim to tackle air pollution in numerous cities across the country.
- Japan: Japan has been at the forefront of developing and implementing energy-efficient technologies, both in industrial and residential settings. The nation is also focused on reducing its carbon emissions and investing in alternative energy sources, such as hydrogen fuel.
- Singapore: Singapore has showcased leadership in urban sustainability, utilising smart technologies to optimise energy use, manage waste, and enhance public transportation. Singapore emphasises green building and has implemented robust recycling and waste management systems.
Notable Governmental Policies
South Korea’s Green New Deal
In 2020, South Korea launched an ambitious Green New Deal, aiming to significantly reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuels and promote green technologies. With an investment plan of 73.4 trillion, the strategy aims to create 1.9 million new jobs by 2025, through the expansion of renewable energy infrastructures, green transportation, and innovations in building sustainable cities.1
China’s 14th Five-Year Plan
China’s 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) focuses significantly on sustainability and environmental conservation. The plan aims to peak carbon emissions by 2030 and attain carbon neutrality by 2060, emphasising green development and clean energy technologies.2
India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC)
India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change envisions a sustainable developmental pathway by incorporating various socio-economic aspects. Launched in 2008, the NAPCC comprises eight national missions that promote the development of solar energy, enhance energy efficiency, sustainable agriculture, and water conservation.3
The Impact of Scope 2 and Scope 3 Initiatives
Even businesses not directly impacted by any regional or country-wide policy may be indirectly impacted by these initiatives through vendor relationships. Scope 2 and Scope 3 initiatives refer to attempts to reduce carbon emissions along supply chains and in dealings with vendors and partners.
For instance, a firm who is directly impacted by government policies or one who has made their own environmental pledges might be forced to alter its vendor relationships if existing partners are non-compliant with emerging environmental norms. This not only shapes the internal operational dynamics but also reconstructs the external business-to-business interactions, vendor selections, and stakeholder relationships.
Sustainability’s Impact Across Industries
Sustainability permeates a wide range of industries in Asia, intertwining economic goals with ecological responsibility and shaping diverse, impactful strategies.
In Asia, the environmental sector has seen a surge in policies focusing on conservation, waste management, and ecological balance. Companies and nonprofits are exploring innovative solutions, like utilizing renewable energy and advocating for biodiversity, both to build a sustainable future and to navigate through the regulatory landscape.
Food and Beverage
The Food and Beverage industry is adopting practices like sourcing ethical ingredients, minimising food waste, and employing eco-friendly packaging. Various brands are prioritising transparency in their supply chains and opting for organic and locally sourced ingredients, responding to a consumer base increasingly mindful of ecological impact and ethical consumption.
Fashion brands across Asia are adopting ethical manufacturing processes, embracing eco-friendly materials, and promoting slow fashion to counteract the traditionally wasteful fast fashion cycle. The emphasis is on creating products that are not only stylish but also environmentally responsible and ethically produced.
Technology companies are developing products that are energy-efficient and integrating circular economy principles into their operations. E-waste management and utilising renewable energy sources are becoming focal points, ensuring that technological advancements do not come at an excessive environmental cost.
Automotive players in Asia are investing in electric vehicles (EVs) and adopting manufacturing processes to minimise carbon footprints. The transition to EVs and hybrid models is not merely a nod to global trends but a strategic move to mitigate environmental impacts and to cater to a market that is progressively eco-conscious.
FMCG brands are adopting biodegradable packaging, reducing carbon emissions, and ensuring responsible sourcing. Brands are becoming vigilant about the environmental impacts of their products and are pioneering initiatives that balance profit-making with environmental stewardship.
Sustainability Knowledge, Attitudes, and Consumer Behaviours
Navigating Asia’s sustainability landscape reveals wide ranging degrees of knowledge, attitudes, and practices across the continent. This wide range of sentiment for consumers is shaped by different cultural, economic, and social frameworks.
From urban sprawls to rural expanses, awareness regarding sustainability in Asian countries varies significantly. While cosmopolitan areas tend to display a heightened consciousness about environmental issues due to access to information and education, rural regions might sometimes lag due to varied access to resources and information.
However, grassroots movements, NGOs, and governmental initiatives strive to bridge this gap, ensuring that awareness permeates through all layers of society.
Cultures across Asia manifest distinctive attitudes towards sustainability. For instance, Japan often emphasises meticulous waste management and energy conservation, imbibed within their daily lives, while nations like India see a growing youth-driven push towards eco-conscious living and responsible consumption.
These attitudes stem from a myriad of factors including historical practices, socio-economic conditions, and sometimes, religious beliefs, all dictating how sustainability is perceived and prioritised.
Gap Between ‘Say and Do’
According to Bain and Company, when asked if they are willing to pay a premium for products that had a positive environmental impact or that were healthier, 90% responded in the affirmative. In fact, 1 in 10 said they’d pay over 50%more for such products.
But their actions don’t always reflect that sentiment. “For example, among consumers in China, 54% rank sustainability as a top-five key purchasing criterion, yet sustainable products comprise only 12% of market share in packaged foods. In Vietnam, the gap is 41% to 3%.”4
71% of Asia Pacific (APAC) consumers care about the environmental impact of their consumption, but struggle to prioritise sustainability over other needs.5
Mistrust of Sustainability Information
One reason for this gap between belief and behaviour for Asian consumers is mistrust of information. Bain & Company claims that consumers are overwhelmed by multiple and potentially conflicting information sources, leaving them sceptical and confused.”
There are more than 460 certified ecolabels globally, and people get their information from a wide variety of sources with no single source of truth. Bain & Company found that 90 per cent of consumers get their information about sustainability from no fewer than three sources.4
‘Cost’ of Sustainability for Brands
Brands face a balancing act when investing in sustainability. While it’s costly to start, using green materials or changing how things are made, the long-term payoffs, like a better brand image and potential financial savings, often make it worthwhile. However, the risk comes from the customer – just because they say they want sustainability doesn’t always mean they’ll buy into it, especially if it’s more expensive.
Brands have to weigh the costs and benefits carefully, ensuring that their moves towards sustainability lineup with what their customers really want and are willing to pay for. It’s a tough, strategic choice, blending ethical moves with smart business practice, making sure all the while that the message of sustainability is getting through to customers in a way that will impact their buying choices.