A Carbon Trust survey of 2,800 18-25 year-olds in six countries has yielded some pretty startling results: 88% of respondents in China would “be more loyal to a brand if they could see it was reducing its carbon footprint,” compared to just 57% of US and 55% of UK participants. Furthermore, “83% of young people questioned in China say they would be more loyal to a brand if they could see it was reducing its carbon footprint,” and 60% of Chinese respondents said they would stop buying a product if its manufacturer refused to commit to measuring and reducing its carbon footprint.
While the survey’s results from participants in China suggest a surprisingly high level of environmental concern among young consumers, it shows a consistently moderate-low level of concern among US and UK respondents. Respondents in South Africa, Brazil and South Korea generally fell, in that order, between China and the US/UK in terms of concern about carbon emissions.
It raises an interesting question, voiced by Mat McDermott at Treehugger: “which is the cart and which is the horse? Did respondents in these places express less desire for carbon cuts because government doesn’t seem as concerned as other places, or is government not doing anything because there’s not enough public support?” McDermott believes that it’s probably a little of both, “filtered through some serious corporate influence on policy, particularly in the US.”
In the US at least, there’s the curve-ball of intense politicization of the issue of carbon emissions, with some candidates for office clearly pandering to voters who hold an increasingly absurd belief that the environmental impact of carbon dioxide is little more than a liberal hoax. While environmental concerns are used as a political football, it becomes tricky for governments to follow pressure from a particular voter base — recent accusations that the EPA is overstepping its authority serve as a pretty good example of that.
But the survey concerns markets driven by consumers – not voters. Government may fail to intervene and enforce standards on carbon emission, whether through political deadlock, corporate pressure or both. But that doesn’t prohibit consumer influence on corporations. A number of environmental campaigns by large corporations are little more than greenwashing, but there are some that appear genuinely eco-driven. It’s quite simple: if a corporation is faced with a significant buying public that demands sustainable practices, it arguably doesn’t matter whether or not they care for the environment, as they’ll certainly care for their bottom line. McDonald’s may not have cared whether or not people ate pink slime, but the folks buying the big macs certainly did.
If 88% of young Chinese consumers would show greater brand loyalty to a company that commits to a lower carbon footprint, then Chinese companies have significant motivation to do so, and that bodes for a potentially greener future. Tom Delay (no, not that Tom DeLay), Chief Executive of the Carbon Trust notes, “[p]erhaps it is the Chinese, and not the U.S. consumer, that really holds the key to unlocking the mass demand for the new low carbon products necessary to deliver an environmentally sustainable economy. If global brands don’t build international carbon reduction strategies even faster, they risk missing out on the spending power of emerging economies.”