Businesses are leveraging “green messaging” to attract customers, recruit young talent, and meet international sustainability demands.
Reflecting a trend that has spread to most parts of the world, products and services sold in Taiwan are increasingly being marketed as environmentally friendly. But claims around sustainability – or “green claims” – can be misleading and sometimes even litigious, making it critical for companies to have data or certificates that support their statements.
Green claims can take the form of direct claims, such as confirming that the packaging material is recyclable, or indirect claims, like asserting that the brand’s company adheres to a comprehensive and far-reaching sustainability concept.
Last year, U.S.-based market researcher Kantar released a Green Attitude Taiwan survey illustrating the dynamics between consumption and sustainability. Kantar found that 54% of respondents stopped purchasing certain products and services because of their negative effect on the environment and society. Further, 49% actively seek out companies committed to compensating for harmful effects on the environment, and 45% said they are ready to support companies working for the benefit of humankind.
The report also showed that 70% of respondents believe that buying sustainable products is a way to express oneself, while 65% said they pay close attention to news reports on the environment and society. The top five concerns among Taiwanese consumers identified by Kantar are air pollution, water shortage, water pollution, extreme climate phenomena, and global warming.
“In the last two or three years, I have noted rapidly growing receptiveness for green claims among Taiwanese consumers, which I attribute to them experiencing firsthand that environmental issues such as climate change are getting serious,” says Yvonne Wang, managing director of Kantar Taiwan. “This is accompanied by more Taiwanese brands embracing sustainability.” She notes that she personally participated “in several big sustainability-themed industry forums in Taiwan this year alone.”
As for successful examples of Taiwanese brands that “have achieved a very good green image,” Wang names I-Mei and Uni-President in the fresh milk category, as well as fast-food chain McDonald’s Taiwan. She notes that in recent years, McDonald’s has significantly cut plastic consumption by decreasing the size of its spoons and forks. It has also done away with straws, and it recycles all its cooking oil to make biodiesel fuel for its delivery vehicles.
Digital marketing expert Jeanie Tsui, who moved from her native Hong Kong to Taipei in 2019, notes that Taiwanese consumers give a lot of thought to sustainability. “Taiwanese consumers, especially the urban young, have the time to be conscious about abstract issues such as sustainability,” she says. As a result, they are often willing to pay a 10-20% premium for products seen to be more environmentally friendly, she adds.
Tsui says that both in Taiwan and internationally, personal care brands have been particularly successful in using green claims to stand out from their competitors. One example is the Taiwanese skincare brand Greenvines, which is a certified B Corporation, a global recognition of its positive social and environmental performance. The core of Greenvines’ green claims is the preservation of purity by eliminating pointless steps, stimulants, and alterations.
Greenvines’ Miracle Spicy Wood Oil for sensitive and unstable skin, for instance, is claimed to be made of 100% fair-trade chili oil from Ghana. “Every bottle of miracle chili oil in your hand is a possibility to make the world better,” Greenvines states on its website.
But while Taiwanese consumers are often willing to pay a modest premium to support green products, some sustainable items cost double the average price in their category, making them a potential hard sell.
The Kantar survey also identified a “value-action gap” – a mismatch between consumers’ attitudes and their actual buying behavior. For example, only 23% of respondents claimed to always or mostly take sustainability into consideration when shopping, 63% said they don’t check whether a product has undergone animal testing, and 56% said they would never consider buying second-hand goods. Price, attitude, perception, and convenience were identified as the main obstacles preventing Taiwanese consumers from improving the sustainability of their consumption.
“We often hear that people here think that green-claim products do not function as well as their conventional counterparts,” says Kantar’s Wang. For example, an environmentally friendly detergent is often perceived as less effective than a conventional detergent, despite its significantly higher price tag.
Citing lack of knowledge as a major barrier to market success, Wang advises brands to do more to educate consumers about the functional capabilities of their green products.
Green claims in Taiwan are not solely about impressing consumers – they are also a means to attract young talent. Taiwanese companies across the spectrum are currently struggling to recruit and retain gifted young professionals. Kantar’s Wang says she recently supported a Taiwanese company in a traditional sector to craft a sustainability concept that targets job seekers rather than prospective customers.
The rapid growth of this trend has also been observed by Geber Brand Consulting, a Taipei-based branding, management, and marketing consulting firm. The company helps international and domestic companies with business-to-business sales improve their branding and messaging, offering services ranging from creating sustainability-focused social media posts and videos to assisting the adoption of environmentally friendly and sustainable materials in production.
“Our foreign client companies in Taiwan use ESG initiatives for several reasons,” says Richard de Vries, Geber’s managing director. “One of the most important reasons, though – and the one that has gained traction in the last four years – is ESG as a tool for talent recruitment, especially among young graduates. Newly-graduated Taiwanese students have many options, especially in the engineering and marketing fields. By emphasizing our clients’ ESG endeavors, we make them an attractive place to work.”
According to de Vries, another important factor driving the demand for effective green messaging is the need for Taiwanese companies to demonstrate their ESG credentials and initiatives to overseas clients. International companies are increasingly under pressure to seek greater commitment from their suppliers regarding sustainability and responsible business practices.
“Western consumer brands, such as Nike, Adidas, and Apple, want to ensure that their suppliers are compliant, and this has become a very important part of our Taiwanese clients’ brands,” de Vries says. “This has been happening for a while, but we have seen it accelerate in the last few years, the silver lining being that it has also helped them differentiate themselves from other Asian suppliers in a competitive field.”
Another way a company can brand itself as “green” is by obtaining various certifications. For example, Greenvines claims on its website that its Miracle Spicy Wood Oil is Taiwan’s first “TIC Clean Label” product.
Not a widely known certification, the TIC Clean Label was developed by Tse-Yue International, a New Taipei-based firm that offers certification services for cosmetics and food manufacturers. In its blog, Greenvines explains that Tse-Yue created the certification with the aim of establishing a domestic equivalent to the European Food Channel Manufacturers’ Clean Label. The European counterpart focuses on regulating the additives in processed foods.
While Taiwan has many other eco-friendly labels, the Green Mark is perhaps the most prestigious, given that it is administered by Taiwan’s Ministry of Environment (MOENV), previously the Environmental Protection Administration. The Green Mark initiative, which was launched in 1992, encourages companies to reduce their environmental impact, decrease waste generation, and actively promote recycling practices.
There are several Green Mark sub-labels – for recycled rubber, plastics, and paper – all of which have their own requirements. For instance, the plastics sub-label requires that additives constitute less than 5% of the total product weight and that all materials used in the product originate from domestic processing or consumption activities rather than imports.
“The Green Mark is awarded to products in the top 20-30% of their category, and practically it acts as an economic tool to boost products and services that have less impact on the environment,” says Wendy Chu, a senior associate at Taipei-based law firm Eiger.
“Although it is a voluntary scheme for environmental performance, companies making environmental claims on their products, such as ‘recyclable,’ ‘energy-efficient,’ and ‘carbon-neutral,’ need to be able to substantiate these claims with accurate, reliable, and verifiable data,” she says.
Chu explains that either the MOENV or a designated third party will conduct factory audits for Green Mark owners at least once every three years to ensure compliance with the Green Mark standards. Based on Chu’s initial research, in recent years there have been four cases in which Green Mark owners filed a petition to reclaim their certifications after withdrawal due to alleged breaches of compliance. Among these four cases, only two of the requests for reinvestigation were successful.
Current international trends may provide some indication of the future direction of Taiwan’s green certification regime. Seongmin Mike Sohn, a senior consultant at South Korea-based chemical regulations consultancy REACH24H, notes that Korea has already implemented so-called “carbon labels.” These labels quantify the carbon emissions generated throughout a product’s lifecycle, encompassing manufacturing, transportation, and disposal. China is currently preparing to implement a similar scheme, while France, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States have already implemented their own carbon labeling regimes.
This type of shift is likely to prove burdensome for companies, given that the calculation of emissions may need to involve data on precursors, production routes, fuel input, and conditions at various installations. Still, carbon labels offer companies a cost-effective way to reduce emissions and enhance consumer loyalty. In other markets, these labels have proven to build trust with consumers and improve their understanding of climate-related issues by effectively communicating and quantifying environmental impacts.
“Taiwan’s Green Mark is very similar to what other governments were doing with a different naming, and I have no doubt that Taiwan will follow this international carbon label trend also,” Sohn says.