There is no denying that consumers play an ever crucial role in the direction of corporate sustainability moving forward. With the impacts of climate change becoming more imminent, consumers realise that they need to become more conscious of choosing the businesses that they support through their purchase.
Being sustainable is no longer an option for brands, but an obligation that they must execute and communicate to boost their brand value and long-term profitability. In Singapore, the positive shift in attitude towards sustainability, albeit slower as compared to its western counterparts, has begun to pick up some steam in the last few years.
Singaporean consumers concern not only for businesses’ environmental impacts, but also the social contributions that companies provide for their communities.
New YouGov Omnibus research finds that 88% of Singaporeans believe businesses must exercise corporate social responsibility (CSR). The study also reveals that 53% of Singaporean consumers need to make sure all companies in Singapore uphold ethical labour practices.
Nearly four in ten (47%) of surveyed consumers feel that businesses must give to charity, while 45% want companies to provide upskilling initiatives for the members of their respective communities.
Overall, 56% of Singaporeans believe that businesses must gear towards a green and eco-friendly supply chain. The percentage, however, falls short at only 46% among business owners and those in senior management.
This indicates while the zeal for sustainability is very much alive among consumers, there remains a chasm between Singaporean brands and the general public.
Bridging The Attitudinal Gap on Sustainability in Singapore
To level such disparate attitudes between the demand side and supply side on corporate environmentalism, companies must understand that sustainability reporting practices are long-term investments that may benefit them in the long run. The new breed of environmentally conscious consumers means that more than ever, the consumers are very critical of how companies conduct their supply chains. The consumers’ sentiments on environmental protection translate well to their purchasing behaviours. Failing to meet their expectations can affect a company’s profitability, and in the worst-case scenario, lead to reputational gaffe and a massive boycott.
Understandably, perhaps senior managers and business owners in Singapore are less enthused about sustainability due to the misconceived notion that sustainability primarily emphasizes reputation-building rather than tangible outcomes. But times are changing. Sustainability offers more than building better rapport with the community. To drive a point home, McKinsey conducted an online survey in 2011—garnering responses from 2,956 executives cutting across industries and regions.
One of the findings indicated that the top reasons for addressing sustainability issues entailed enhancing operational efficiency and lowering costs at 33%—replacing corporate reputation from its top spot at 32%. Additionally, the survey found that 63% of the surveyed companies were taking actions in reducing energy use in operations, and 61% in better waste management.
These findings suggest that the focus for better sustainability today already gravitates towards better innovation in a company’s supply chain. While businesses are still expected to positively contribute to their communities through more transparent CSR practices to bring in better long-term value, sustainability also offers a wide array of opportunities for companies to stay alert of any risks and to innovate to remain relevant in the competitive market.
However, regardless of the lingering attitudinal gap, more and more companies in Singapore are racing to develop more sustainable business operations. Case in point, NTUC FairPrice introduced a holistic framework to reduce its use of plastic bags. The programme has aimed to reduce 30 million plastic bags per annum by 2030. In 2017, the company managed to cut over 11.5 million plastic bags. It also pledged $50,000 to the Singapore Environment Council and Zero Waste SG to support their respective sustainability efforts.
Millennial Singaporeans As The Main Drivers of Change
Millennials across the world have been leading the charge against irresponsible consumerism thanks to their meticulous attention to labels—and Singaporean millennials are no exception. According to The 2017 Nielsen’s Global Sustainability Report, Singaporean consumers—especially the millennials—are “increasingly concerned about clear labels on consumer packaged goods and understanding what they are consuming”.
From the 501 respondents in Singapore, close to two-thirds of the millennials from an age group between 20 and 30 read packaging or nutritional labels on food packages.
Aside from health concerns, they also want to make sure that the products that they are purchasing are sustainable. Singaporean millennials also do their part in energy conservation. The study finds that 45% Singaporean millennials go an extra mile to save on electricity and gas.
Perhaps, Singaporean millennials’ critical assessment of brands can be credited to better exposure to the news on online platforms—especially concerning issues on climate change. According to a study conducted by Marketing Interactive, the millennials in Singapore spend on average 146 minutes online every day with main activities including communication (21 minutes), social networking (24 minutes), and consuming media content (39 minutes).
YouTube comes on top as the primary apps used by Millennials aged 15 to 24. Unsurprisingly, as information can easily be accessed with the touch of their fingertips, millennials in Singapore spend more time researching brands for better purchase intent.
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Corporate Sustainability Moving Forward
While the majority of Singaporean consumers have shown their concerns and efforts in being more sustainable, one major impediment to sustainability in Singapore is the affordability of sustainable products.
Eco-friendly products tend to be priced slightly higher compared to their regular counterparts—and this has been a significant factor as to why consumers opt for cheaper alternatives. Technological innovation plays an even more critical role in driving down the costs of these products as it tremendously helps in creating a much leaner and efficient supply chain.
On the other hand, despite the attitudinal gap between consumers and business owners in terms of the importance of eco-friendly supply chain, some brands have successfully displayed their staunch commitment to long-term sustainability initiatives.
It is essential to highlight that while Singaporean consumers as a whole are moving towards more conscious consumerism, millennials are the primary driving force of such shift.
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