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The Environment, Emerging Markets, and Consumer Choices

by Tim Kenyon , 23.10.2012

Leap-frogging – it is a term that is used a lot when it comes to the development of emerging markets like Brazil, South Africa, and China surpassing their more economically “developed” counterparts in North America, Europe, and Asia. In many ways the leap-frogging trend is true, emerging markets are able to learn from the mistakes of others and make that appropriate adjustments to better ensure success.

Take the development of alternative energy. Photovoltaic technology (aka solar cells) was born out of Bell Labs in New Jersey in the 1950s. But fast forward to 2010 and solar/other alternative energy sources are most likely to be produced in China – a market much more immature in terms of energy production. According to a 2010 article in the New York Times, China is now the largest maker of wind turbines and solar panels. As New York Times author Keith Bradsher puts it, “These efforts to dominate renewable energy technologies raise the prospect that the West may someday trade its dependence on oil from the Mideast for a reliance on solar panels, wind turbines and other gear manufactured in China.”

This green energy revolution has trickled through to everyday consumers in China. According to the GfK Roper Green Gauge Global survey, a survey of consumer environmental attitudes and behaviors in 25 markets around the world, 33% of Chinese consumers choose a more efficient source of energy for their home or car all or most of the time- up from 26% in 2010. In fact, the adoption rate of alternative energy is higher in China than in green conscious Germany, where 29% choose a more efficient source of energy all or most of the time, up from 27% in 2010 and thus relatively unchanged.

It’s not just energy where emerging markets are on the leading edge of green consumer trends. As was reported in the recent Green Gauge Global press release, people reporting they take the environment into account when buying products increased significantly in Brazil, China, Mexico, and South Africa from 2011-2012. During the same time period purchasing remained either flat or down in much of the developed world. In addition, emerging markets are the most likely to see protecting the environment as a core corporate responsibility. Consumers in Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina are the most likely to say that “being environmentally responsible” is the #1 responsibility of companies – beating out providing good jobs and providing quality products!

However, there are ways consumers in emerging markets tend to lag the developed world, namely recycling. In the 25 countries surveyed in Green Gauge Global the consumers in Western Europe, Developed Asia, and North America are much more likely to recycle than consumers in Eastern Europe, Developing Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. Yet, the lag in recycling has more to do with lack of appropriate infrastructure as opposed to consumer desire.

The situation is clearly complex and nuanced, with consumer opinion developing in different ways and at different speeds between markets. That’s where tools like GfK’s Green Gauge Global survey can aid in distinguishing trend from fad. However, moving forward we would expect consumers in emerging markets to take a leadership role in all things green. These markets represent a rich target for marketers looking to tap into a sustainable mindset.

If you would like to learn more about GfK’s capabilities as it relates to Green and the consumer, please contact Tim Kenyon at Tim.Kenyon@gfk.com – Director of the Green Gauge US and Global Surveys.