Editorial: Tapping green consumers

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Sunday, June 22, 2014


HAVE you started your Christmas shopping?

If not yet, do you consider yourself part of the 79 percent of Filipinos who are green consumers?

Last June 17, the Nielsen Global Survey of Corporate Responsibility revealed that eight in 10 consumers in the Philippines are willing to pay extra for goods and services that stand for social commitment and environmental sustainability.

Rappler.com reported on June 18 that the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand led the rest of the world in exhibiting ethical consumerism.

Seventy-three percent of consumers in Vietnam and 71 percent in Thailand also patronize brands avowing causes with positive social impact.

Beyond packaging

The Rappler.com report did not include details about the Nielsen study, such as the period the survey was conducted, the sampling or selection of respondents and margin of error.

Such information would have explained some curious aspects of the findings. The Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand face “extreme levels of poverty” and suffer “frequently from natural disasters,” pointed out a Nielsen official. Yet, more than the majority of consumers surveyed in these countries chose to pay more to patronize their favorite advocacies.

In local media reports, price plays a major consideration in the purchase of basic commodities in wet markets, school supply outlets and even during seasonal sales events.

Perhaps the Nielsen sample of 30,000 consumers in 60 countries represents a middle-class swathe since the predisposition of political correctness is more pronounced in this group. According to the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), “the best ‘green’ customers are people with more money to spend.”

As reported by Rappler.com, 82 percent of Filipino consumers paid attention to the “green” packaging of products and services. The highest recorded in the world, the Pinoys’ packaging consciousness may be interpreted in many ways.

Can the presentation of a product or service or a social marketing campaign be an adequate gauge of a company’s commitment to the environment and other causes?

Political correctness can swing to the other extreme of political opportunism. How many actually verify corporate claims to preserve the forests or raise funds for disaster victims?

“Buying with the heart,” to use the Rappler.com phrase, demands vigilance from consumers to weed out those who desire only to hitch to the bandwagon of cause-oriented marketing and exploit social conscience.

Staying evergreen

If the Nielsen Global Survey of Corporate Responsibility results are taken at face value, the trend of rising social consciousness among Filipino consumers should encourage people’s organizations, development workers and social entrepreneurs.

During the late 1980s, Cebu workers of the Philippine Business for Social Progress sold Christmas cards with more than an evergreen theme. The cost of each card went to the planting and maintenance of trees in Cebu’s watershed areas. Both card buyers and recipients were informed about each card’s role in watershed management.

Tying up a social advocacy with seasonally useful merchandise was not unusual in the development circuit then. Non-government workers and their networks overlooked some rawness in the finish of products made by the victims of domestic abuse or paid more for virgin coconut oil produced by an urban poor cooperative.

The socially desirable end was easy to verify. If one didn’t meet the actual beneficiaries, at least one knew the workers and could vouch for the genuine intentions behind these social marketing schemes.

The present success of green consumerism has brought new challenges. With causes glutting the green market, social entrepreneurs must do more than make claims to improve the world.

They must educate the public about their advocacy, drawing on their participation, not just their patronage. According to the IISD demographics of green consumerism, the green claims of companies need independent verification to be more persuasive with consumers who are sincere in their intentions and dedicated to sustainable lifestyles but distrustful of empty claims.

Although the IISD profiles green products as belonging to the higher end of the market, in Philippine society, green products and services must be priced competitively to appeal to those who have lesser purchasing power but are intent on sustainable lifestyles.

While green consumers have the education and intellectual orientation to prioritize the value of social consciousness, granting value for money should go hand-in-hand with doing good.

For social entrepreneurs already planning and preparing to reap an evergreen harvest from corporate giveaways and Christmas presents at the end of the year, balancing these green goals should bring more than peace and good will to all.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on June 23, 2014.

Opinion

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