Chinese Rate Environmental Pollution as Key Concern

MPG Survey Says Lack of Information and Limited Availability of Green Products Are Barriers to Responsible Consumption

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Cities like Hefei suffer from extreme pollution.
Cities like Hefei suffer from extreme pollution. Credit: Normandy Madden
SHANGHAI ( -- Environmental pollution is the key issue of concern for Chinese consumers, with almost half (49%) saying that they are very concerned about it, according to the second annual Brand Sustainable Futures report.

The proprietary global analysis conducted by MPG and Havas Media tracks consumers changing opinions on corporate sustainability and their perceptions of which brands are doing the best job. The survey is conducted in nine markets with environmental concerns--the U.K., the U.S., Spain, Germany, France, India, Brazil, Mexico and China.

China's government says pollution levels in many cities improved last year, as the quality of the overall environment remained "stable," according to a survey by the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

China is the world's leading energy consumer
According to the ministry's figures, air quality was fair to good two-thirds of the time last year in 655 Chinese cities surveyed. Water quality in 89.84% of urban groundwater areas reached acceptable standards, up 4.44 percentage points year-on-year. More than 63% of domestic sewage in urban areas was properly disposed of last year, up 8.03 points, and 72% of urban garbage was treated, up 1.04 points.

Even the government admits China has 14 cities where pollution levels leave much to be desired, including Taiyuan, where coal mining is the leading industry and therefore water quality is low, and Urumqi, which suffers from extreme traffic noise pollution.

By global standards, however, China is in a state of environmental crisis.

The country is a global leader in carbon emissions, and experts insist it suffers from soil erosion, a lack of safe drinking water, and extreme air pollution caused by heavy industry and increased automobile use.

A recent report by the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) said China's carbon emissions have increased by more than 20 times in the last 50 years. China has overtaken the U.S. to become the world's biggest energy consumer, according to a report earlier this year by the International Energy Agency, even though its per capita levels remain much lower, suggesting a consumption peak by China's 1.3 billion consumers is still decades away.

Sustainability issues concern consumers
Concern about the depletion of natural resources and water shortages rose 11% in China, amid worries regarding climate change and global warming. Concerns about health care provision also made a large gain with a 6% increase compared to 2009.

Sustainability also remains a key issue. Chinese consumers are very likely to consider environmental and social aspects when making purchasing decisions. Fifteen percent of Chinese consumers say they always consider environmental/social aspects when making purchasing decisions, while 53% often consider them.

The two main barriers to buying environmentally-responsible products in China are a lack of information about them and the limited availability of such products. Information is a key area since over half (62%) of Chinese consumers say they would choose responsible products/services more often if they were present. Financial incentives, such as loyalty points and coupons, information on personal ethical behavior, and a link between the brand and the consumer's local community are also mentioned.

Chinese feel more empowered than global average
China is a country with highly engaged, enthusiastic and active consumers. Since 2009 it has shown an 11% increase in "devotees" (active followers of sustainability issues), with fewer people feeling disengaged from the issue. This suggests that Chinese consumers are becoming more educated on matters of sustainability and more conscious of acting responsibly as individuals. However, this level of engagement does not come without a price, with one-fifth of Chinese consumers being engaged and critical of corporate motives, an increase of 10% since 2009.

Consumers in China feel strongly that large companies have a role to play in solving environmental and social problems. They also feel more empowered than the global average, with a firm 62% believing they have the power to influence more responsible behavior, compared to 57% globally. Chinese consumers are the most active in rewarding (93%) and punishing (92%) companies.

More information about the Brand Sustainable Futures report is available at

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