Ethical Consumption in SG Thrives, But There’s a Gap


Study: Ethical Consumption in Singapore Thrives, But Gap Exists Between Consumer Demands and Business Priorities

What is ethical consumption? Ethical consumption, also known as ethical consumerism, is the practice of purchasing and consuming products and services in a way that reduces harm to the environment and society. Examples of this include, among others, purchasing fair-trade goods, ditching makeup brands that test on animals for cruelty-free cosmetics, boycotting fast fashion by buying sweatshop-free and sustainable clothing, bringing your own containers at zero-waste stores, and patronising brands that donate a percentage of their proceeds to a charitable cause.

Singapore at a Glance

Ethical consumption in Singapore

Singapore being one of the greenest cities in the world and arguably the greenest in Asia means it is at the forefront of sustainability. This is evident in Singapore's Zero Waste Masterplan, which plots the city-state's strategies towards a zero-waste nation, which encompasses "adopting a circular economy approach to waste and resource management practices, and shifting towards more sustainable production and consumption."

In Singapore, businesses are held to a higher standard. A YouGov Omnibus study, published in January 2018, found that majority or 56% of Singaporeans think businesses have a responsibility to ensure their supply chain does not harm the environment. However, it appears there is a difference in opinion between the public and those leading Singaporean brands, as the report likewise showed that only 46% of the city-state's business owners and those in senior management agree to this sentiment.

Fifty-three percent of Singaporeans also believe that businesses have a responsibility to ensure their supply chain is free from harmful practices, such as forced labour. Other areas consumers identified that businesses have a responsibility to do social good in include giving to charity (47%), upskilling members of the community (45%), and offering pro-bono services in the company's area of expertise (40%).

Another YouGov Omnibus survey, published in July 2020, showed that Singaporeans preferred "socially responsible" brands amid the pandemic.

According to the survey, these top six words were associated by Singaporeans with companies and brands they interacted with the most during the lockdown: socially responsible (49%), trustworthy (35%), caring (32%), sincere (31%), genuine (27%), and ethical (26%).

"It’s interesting to see how consumer preferences shift and shape during a pandemic, and it is clear that amongst Singaporeans, socially responsible brands are the most likely to come up on top," Jake Gammon, head of Omnibus APAC at YouGov Omnibus, said. "Our data also shows that younger Singaporeans, and amongst females and high household income earners, socially conscious brands are more likely to curry favour."

Nevertheless, a study by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore and Accenture in October 2020, titled "Sustainability in Singapore: Consumer and Business Opportunities," has identified a gap between consumer demand and business priorities when it comes to making Singapore more sustainable.

"We found that there is clear unmet consumer demand for more sustainable products that are widely available across physical and online shopping channels," the study said. "Consumers also want sustainable products to offer better end-to-end value, from environmentally friendly components to greener last-mile delivery, elevating the conversation beyond price."

The study found that majority of consumers do care about Singapore's state of sustainability, with Singaporeans prioritizing environmental concerns like climate change, carbon emissions, and single-use plastics.

"They have these at the top of their minds when they decide what to buy, versus other social factors, such as fair labour practices and supporting local firms,” the study said.

On the business side, the companies interviewed for the study said they wanted customers to demand more sustainable options from them.

"By having clear lines of communications with customers, including through dedicated platforms and forums for feedback, companies can harness their sustainability demands and make a stronger business case for investments in solutions and initiatives," the study said.

The companies also highlighted the necessity of transformation roadmaps that are focused on sustainability and with guidance from the Singaporean government, so they can establish clear strategies.

Start Small

Ethical Consumption in Singapore

Although ethical consumerism has been around for some time, we can say we've seen its rise in recent years pre-pandemic and during the health crisis as more and more of us sought to be socially responsible and conscious in our choices. It's an example of voting with your wallet, or spending your money in alignment with your core values, which in itself warrants a whole different discussion (and another post). Some would call this naivete or plain mythical, while others would argue, "there's no ethical consumption under capitalism."

But amid the growing awareness for issues like climate change, animal cruelty, and human rights violations, we'd be hard-pressed to say we're left with no choice when we totally aren't. Hence, the agency of some consumers to resolve to make changes where they are able, however small, which nevertheless add up in the long run. Let’s not miss the forest for the trees. We can still practice responsible consumption from where we stand. Perhaps not completely, but certainly.

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