Visualizing Sustainability for Southeast Asia

Trends / Sustainability
Yuri Endo
Jan 7, 2022
4 in 5 consumers in Southeast Asia (SEA) have personally made a lot of progress towards living a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle during Covid, according to our latest Visual GPS research. It also found that maintaining a sustainable and ethical lifestyle is important across generations, genders, and in all regions of the world, but especially in SEA. 
4 in 5 of consumers in SEA also said it turns them off when they see imagery in a brand's advertising and communication that is not environmentally aware. Hence, the small details like in this image make the difference. Here we have an image of a near‑zero‑waste picnic – they are not using disposable cups or plastic bottles, and people, not objects, are the main subjects of the image – it is these tiny details that, as consumers, we are noticing particularly when it comes to sustainability.

The top actions that consumers believe will have a positive impact on the planet are also the actions they say they have taken recently, such as making their home more energy‑efficient, and reusing, repairing, or purchasing second‑hand instead of buying new, which are pointing to a shift towards circularity.  
4 in 5 of consumers in SEA said it turns them off when they see imagery in a brand's advertising and communication that is not environmentally aware.
9 in 10 said they prefer to buy from companies and brands that are involved in supporting issues and causes that create social good in society. Also, 9 in 10 prefer to buy from companies that actively participate in and give back to the communities in which they operate, and almost everyone said that they would like to see more empathy for those who are disadvantaged.  

Additionally, the top actions that consumers believe a company can show their commitment to sustainability are reducing their company carbon footprint, sourcing ethical materials, and using ethical manufacturing practices, which are also pointing out to a shift towards sustainable and ethical consumption. Against a backdrop of fake news and content over‑saturation, we as consumers can be unknowingly influenced by the visuals we see every day, and misled by greenwashing. It is important for each of us to understand the meaning of sustainable consumption and ethical living through visuals in order to prevent further deterioration of the global environment. For companies and brands, distinguishing genuine messages from corporate greenwashing in their communication is key.
For companies and media outlets looking to visualize responsible and ethical businesses and lifestyles, here are some insights to keep in mind.

Are you showing the human story?
We often see the abstract side of sustainability in visuals, such as solar panels on a roof, two hands cupping a plant, smoke coming out of a chimney stack, or a polar bear. When we see these visuals, we associate them with environmental issues, but they are projected as abstract, unrelated to human beings, not as a call to action. Also, these images have been overused to the point that they have lost their initial impact. From an industry perspective, we have to move away from these visual cliches and show the human story.

Are you showing solutions that can bring change to the environment?
For example, the development of synthetic meat, self‑sufficient living, eco‑friendly offices, warehouses that utilize renewable energy, and lifestyles choices to conserve electricity and waterpower can be seen by consumers, which can lead to a call to action. Showcase initiatives that represent a cohesive engagement to reduce excessive consumption.

Are you showing the latest technologies to help realize a sustainable society?
For example, e‑health is said to be a great support for patients, while at the same time easing the burden on healthcare professionals and reducing carbon footprints. It is also important to visualize solutions fitting into real life so that everyone can easily imagine how to use and benefit from them.

Are you showing support for your country and local community?
Amidst the pandemic, the majority of SEA consumers say that supporting local small businesses is a priority. Buying locally can also help reduce your carbon footprint.
Are you showing the circular economy?
In contrast to the conventional economic system of "take" (mining resources), "make" (products), and "waste" (disposal), in the circular economy, products and raw materials are regarded as "resources" and circulated without producing waste. So let's visualize that.

Are you showing ethical business practices? 
Are you visualizing how raw materials are sourced, manufactured, and delivered to consumers in an ethical and responsible manner that takes into account social and environmental concerns? Are you depicting products and services are produced in an environment that takes into account the well‑being of workers?

Are you visualizing people supporting their own community from within?
When it comes to understanding which image is best at showing how a company is committed to sustainability and protecting the earth, SEA consumers are more likely to respond positively to how groups of people are protecting the environment, as well as the positive impact or solutions companies, are having on the environment.

Are you showing how people of all ages care for the environment?
Importantly, sustainable lifestyle choices increase with age. When it comes to a sustainable lifestyle, you would think that younger generations are driving the changes, but the data shows that it’s a sentiment shared by everyone.
The Reuse Revolution