Consumers look to brands to lead the way on Sustainability

The Indian consumer durables market is at an interesting juncture today. Emerging from the pandemic, the Indian market presents significant opportunities. Consumption patterns have changed significantly – towards safety, premiumness, and technologically advanced products, as seen in the growth of dishwashers, cleaning robots, and air purifiers. Global corporations view India as an important market from which future growth is likely to emerge.

There are challenges as well – we are witnessing significant price pressures due to raw material shortages and logistical bottlenecks for multiple reasons, the most recent being the Ukraine – Russia conflict. But, the longer-term impact will come from the more fundamental changes that manufacturers need to make, to meet regulatory demands.

India is the world’s fourth-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide after China, the US, and the EU. At COP26, India pledged to be carbon neutral by 2070 – a significant step, for which ample regulatory policies are being implemented like the mandatory Star Labelling Program and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). These regulations have a direct implication for producers, in terms of investments required to create energy-efficient products and set up reverse handling logistics.

However, adherence to these policies is likely to pay off among consumers in the long run. In recent years, sustainability has moved from the WOKE space to becoming more mainstream. Kantar’s Sustainability Foundational study in 2021 which provides some interesting highlights from a snapshot of the status of the Indian consumer with regards to sustainability and the role they perceive for companies vs. themselves in addressing sustainability issues.

  • To start with, when we look at the top concerns, India looks at issues beyond poverty and hunger. Even for a developing country like India, the environment is as key an issue as immediate living. Consumers are seeing interlinkages between the current state and the larger ecosystem and are cognizant of the interactions
  • 76% of consumers pay a lot of attention to environmental and societal issues in the news. And 77% also claim they are willing to invest time and money in companies that do good.
  • There are concerns specific to the durables sector – overpackaging, plastic pollution, worker well-being, tax evasions, and carbon emissions (particularly for mobile phones)
  • However, despite the concerns there are also barriers among consumers to adopting sustainable behaviors. These are heightened levels of financial pressures, post-Covid which forces consumers to adopt products & lifestyles more suited to their budgets. And limited knowledge about the specifics of sustainability and its impact adds to the barriers.
Financial pressuresKnowledge barriers
84% say ‘when shopping, their mind is on saving money more than saving the planet, in the current scenario’

75% say ‘they don’t think much about sustainability as they are primarily focused on the challenges of living under poor economic conditions’

71% say ‘the sustainable/ethical products are always more expensive

76% say ‘they don’t have enough information about how ethical/sustainable different products are’

71% say ‘it is really hard to tell which products are good or bad ethically, for the environment or for sustainability’

  • In fact, consumers today believe that the onus of providing sustainable solutions lies with brands (70% say ‘ they don’t feel like it’s their responsibility… it’s up to businesses). They will not pay for what they think is the manufacturer’s responsibility to deliver.

Hence, while there is growing awareness about sustainability among consumers, brands must take the initiative for it to become mainstream. Consumers may make the effort at the pre-purchase stage to consciously look for energy-efficient, ethical practices brand but whether they will walk the entire path will depend on the brand – whether the proposition is meaningful and delivers value – for e.g., in the repairs and replacement policy or in the policy for disposal of end-life products.

In order to gear up for the future, brands need to build their sustainability practices around the entire Product Lifecycle – from product idea and development to use and disposal. For instance, in electronics, the route to do this would be right at the design stage – to extend the product life by incorporating repairability features. Another approach to mitigate the issues that accompany unchecked consumption and consequent production is using circular economy principles to rethink our product offer. Great examples of this are Furlenco – which offers furniture, appliances, and electronics on a monthly subscription model, and Signify Lighting which makes it possible for commercial customers to purchase light as a service rather than invest in new hardware upfront

Sustainable Packaging is a key hygiene platform across FMCD categories; leads to reduced waste, less hazardous material, and landfills. It is also a tangible and key touchpoint at the point of sale! A great example of how a company addressed this is the Samsung TV’s Eco packaging that comes with instructions on how to reuse the cardboard packaging to make bookshelves, frames, etc.

Return & recycling strategies will become increasingly more critical. They directly address two of the burning platforms for electronics and durable industries – reduction in carbon footprint and pollution from waste. Companies will also benefit from a consumer point of view since it will also target the stigma of ‘planned obsolescence.

Brands that take the lead on sustainability, do it consistently and with authenticity have the potential to take this beyond their own products to shape well-being on the planet with broader platforms and messages. FMCD companies have the market power to create significant change, their product offer and processes afford opportunities to build sustainability along the complete journey. The good news is that we are seeing management acknowledgment and commitment to adopting sustainability into their everyday business.

Authored by:
Paru Minocha, Managing Director, Qualitative & Lead- Sustainability Practice, South Asia, Insights Division, Kantar.
Sushmita Balasubramaniam, Shopper and CX Domain Lead

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top