Sustainability speaks: Unveiling consumer mindsets across APAC

As economies worldwide race to meet their environmental goals, understanding consumer perspectives on sustainability is becoming increasingly vital.

For the second consecutive year, Rakuten Insight Global conducted an online survey with over 109,000 consumers from its own proprietary panel across APAC, providing valuable insights into consumers’ evolving attitudes towards sustainable consumption. Here’s what we discovered:

Shaping the green mindset: Unveiling consumer values

The good news is that sustainability matters more than ever to APAC consumers. Nearly half (44.9%) say buying products that are environmentally friendly or have sustainable packaging is crucial to them. This is up from 43.3% in 2022.

This shift in mindset is evident across generations, with Gen Z leading the charge. 88% of Gen Z respondents say sustainable packaging is either somewhat or very important to them, followed by Baby Boomers at 79%. Notably, the number of consumers who say sustainability isn’t important at all has shrunk to 2.9%, down from 4% in 2022.

Within Rakuten’s ecosystem, users are able to enjoy a range of sustainable choices. Earth Mall with Rakuten curates sustainable products from Rakuten Ichiba’s online shopping mall, featuring organic, handmade and fair trade items, among others. Additionally, services like Rakuten Farm promote organic produce while striving to revitalize rural employment in Japan’s aging agricultural sector.

Walking the talk in sustainable shopping

Rakuten Insight’s research also shows that APAC consumers are translating their eco-conscious values into real-world actions. Over half (54.6%) are proactively making sustainable choices when they shop, up from 51.9% in the previous year. The younger generations, Gen Z (56%) and Millennials (59%) are taking the lead in purchasing sustainable products, outperforming Gen X (48%) and Baby Boomers (36%).  

The data suggests that markets in Southeast Asia are more action-oriented compared to other regions. Indonesia (68%), Thailand (62%), the Philippines and Vietnam (61%) ranked highest in taking action when purchasing products. This could be due to their closer proximity to the visible impacts of climate change, making sustainability a more tangible concern.

The latest survey data continues to demonstrate consumers’ commitment to sustainable actions during the purchasing process. Notably, reducing the use of single-use plastics remains prevalent, with 78% of respondents maintaining this practice from the previous year. Moreover, there’s an encouraging uptick in the preference for items with sustainable packaging, rising from 47.4% in 2022 to 50.3% in 2023. Additionally, recycling shows a modest increase from 38% in 2022 to 39.8% in 2023.

In line with its pledge towards sustainability, Rakuten Kobo is promising to incorporate certified recycled materials in its upcoming eReader devices, marking a significant stride in its environmental commitment. Meanwhile, Rakuten Travel is promoting eco-conscious choices by implementing a rating system for accommodation providers based on their sustainability efforts, empowering travelers to make green decisions effortlessly while planning their trips.

Breaking down barriers

When it comes to the barriers to choosing more sustainable products, cost remains the biggest challenge, as it was in 2022. As the cost-of-living crisis continues post-pandemic in many markets, this may explain the increase from 30.9% in 2022 to 35.7% in 2023. The second most stated barrier is not having enough information, with a similar increase from 30.4% in 2022 to 35.2% in 2023.

However, with the right information, people can make informed decisions that lead to sustainable choices.

Rakuten Rakuma, a popular C2C commerce app, stands as a prime example of this. By facilitating the exchange of pre-loved items, Rakuma provides a platform for second-hand goods to find new owners, thus extending the product’s life cycle and reducing its environmental impact. In an effort to reduce waste and encourage organic consumption, the Rakuma team is partnering with 130+ reuse businesses in Japan to allow them to sell directly to users while also strengthening measures to encourage direct-from-farm and direct-from-fishery shopping.

Inspiring change: Propelling sustainable lifestyles

The results of the latest survey show a slight increase in the number of consumers who are willing to pay extra for eco-friendly products. 67.9% of consumers across various markets express readiness to pay more for sustainably produced, packaged and eco-friendly products – an uptick from 67.6% in 2022.

Younger generations, particularly Gen Z (72%) and Millennials (70%), exhibit greater willingness to pay a premium for eco-friendly alternatives compared to Gen X (59%) and Boomers (48%). These findings underscore the increasing momentum of sustainable consumption practices, which are gradually becoming mainstream.

Taxation emerges as another noteworthy avenue for instigating change. It’s the younger generations who exhibit more openness to taxation as a means to address sustainable consumption, with Gen Z (15%) and Millennials (14%) surpassing both Gen X (10%) and Baby Boomers (6%). This signals a positive outlook for future policymakers, indicating that increasing taxes could serve as a viable strategy to promote sustainable consumption.

Rakuten Group has initiated the awarding of Green Life Points alongside Rakuten Points for eco-conscious purchases, spanning a range of categories such as energy-saving appliances, label-free beverages and second-hand goods. Six distinct Rakuten services in Japan are eligible for this campaign, aligning with the Green Life Points promotion program led by Japan’s Ministry of the Environment.

An optimistic outlook for the future of sustainability

Rakuten Insight Global’s latest survey shows that consumer attitudes towards sustainability are on an overwhelmingly positive trajectory. Shoppers increasingly want to purchase products that are sustainably made/packaged or environmentally friendly, and the number of consumers who are taking action towards sustainability by adopting eco-friendly shopping practices has surged. With younger generations also more willing to pay extra to support sustainability initiatives via measures such as increased taxes, the future of sustainable consumption looks bright in the APAC region.

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