Mastering Environmental Branding in Southeast Asia

Jun 12, 2024 | Publications

Naja Bertolt Jensen Bjuozu0mpt0 Unsplash

In Southeast Asia, a trend has emerged among marketers incorporating pro-environmental elements into their branding, such as implementing recycling packaging and corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. Despite these efforts, it becomes apparent in consumer interactions that there is a low tendency among Southeast Asian consumers to embrace or adopt brands based on their environmental actions.

Southeast Asians, like Indonesians, have raised huge awareness regarding the rise of environmental degradation, but it does not mean they have the motivation to act on it. Amidst the global uproar of movements such as Fridays for Future in Sweden, Generation Zero in New Zealand, or the Youth for Climate movement in Belgium, Indonesia presents a contrasting scenario where environmental activism remains relatively low (The Conversation, 2023).

According to the findings of the Yale University Climate Change Communication Centre (2023), Indonesian citizens place their highest hopes on the higher authority in this regard. As much as 75 percent of the respondents expressed their expectation that the government and corporations can mitigate environmental damage caused by human activities. This reliance on external entities suggests a prevailing belief that the responsibility for environmental issues lies beyond individual actions, impacting the inclination to actively support eco-friendly brands.

Delving into Indonesia’s cultural and historical context further illuminates the roots of this perspective. In the past, Indonesia’s nature has always been perceived as a higher power with an unpredictability that an ordinary man cannot control. Animistic beliefs have deeply imprinted culture and social behaviour throughout Indonesia. People deified nature, believed in spirits, and worshipped their ancestors (Indonesia Travel, 2013), making the task of negotiation and protection from nature a sacred obligation of kings, priests, and mediums. This is one of the reasons why, historically, Indonesia believed only certain men have the power to control elements of nature and protect humans.

The idea that certain men with special power are required to control elements of nature continues with a key shift in the description of powerful men from kings, priests, and mediums to government and corporate institutions.

These examples shed light on how certain brands have promoted environmental friendliness in Indonesia, but the consumer hasn’t really adopted or supported this based on their environmental efforts.

The Body Shop is one company that strongly emphasises environmentally friendly principles, and have implemented various programs to address waste issues, including in Indonesia. According to a study from the University of Computer Indonesia, The Body Shop consumers tend to make purchases only when there are special offer programs, such as discounts, buy two get one free promotions, or bundled product programs, and so on. About 22% of the respondents stated that The Body Shop’s prices are considered too high for an environmentally friendly product.

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One of their programs, Bring Back Our Bottle, is recognised by consumers as an excellent initiative to address environmental issues. However, this program fails to capture consumers’ attention enough to encourage widespread implementation without significant discounts. Many consumers admit to feeling lazy and rarely visit malls solely to return packaging bottles.

Picture 1 1
Source: The Body Shop

AQUA is a company that has implemented a recycling process for its bottle packaging. However, low consumer interest has been observed due to the high cost of the process. When compared to other countries, recycled plastic bottle prices are relatively lower abroad. This is due to the cleanliness of the recycled plastic, which is free from contamination that comes from consumers who separate their waste from the beginning. In contrast, Indonesian consumers do not separate their waste types. Therefore, from the collection, sorting, and cleaning stages, which take longer due to many bottles being contaminated with residue, to processing, all stages incur costs that have not yet reached an economic scale.

Picture 2
Source: EPR Indonesia

Tokopedia, one of the largest e-commerce platforms in Indonesia, has also established the Green Tokopedia program, which includes implementing environmentally friendly packaging for its sellers. Many consumers are still unsure about the safety of non-plastic packaging, which is why it hasn’t gained much traction. The Faculty of Economics and Business at the University of Indonesia reports that a significant number of consumers feel less secure if a product is not wrapped in plastic. This sentiment is shared by courier services, who believe that non-plastic packaging may be more prone to damage or may lack credibility with the recipients.

Picture 3
Source: Tokopedia

In navigating the challenges of promoting environmental initiatives in Southeast Asia, marketers should draw valuable insights from the prevailing cultural and historical perspectives. Marketers should consider the following takeaways to apply these learnings on a regional level:

  1. Foster collaborations between brands, governments, and local communities to address environmental concerns collectively. Highlighting joint efforts may align more closely with the cultural expectation of shared responsibility.
  2. Tailor messaging and initiatives that resonate with the cultural beliefs, emphasising collective responsibility and the positive impact of individual actions.
  3. Invest in educational campaigns emphasising the safety and credibility of eco-friendly practices. Transparent communication is essential to building trust.

By incorporating these takeaways into regional marketing strategies, brands can better navigate the unique challenges posed by cultural and historical factors, fostering a more sustainable and impactful approach to environmental branding in Southeast Asia.

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