How to market green initiatives in Vietnam

Vietnam has spent the 32 years since its Doi Moi reforms in a phase of rapid economic expansion, and recently there seems to be more public awareness than ever about the environmental consequences that can result from unchecked growth. This means that opportunities abound for companies doing business in Vietnam to take their place at the vanguard of this still-emerging trend, finding new ways to reach the country’s youth-heavy population. Here are a few suggestions to bring them onboard:

Relate it to everyday lives

Residents of Vietnam’s large cities are accustomed to pollution – in the air, on the ground, and in food and water sources. If your product takes some action to address this, it can go a long way to help you stand out. For something like an electric vehicle, organic food product, or natural cleaner, emphasize that it is safer for both the consumers’ health (health scandals are familiar here) and the health of their immediate environment.

For example, Vietnamese awareness of excess plastic waste is growing, especially along the coast and near waterways where its impact is most apparent. This has led to a burgeoning market for alternatives to ubiquitous single-use plastic. Hanoian Dang An has expanded from his plastic-free kiosk to sell reusable steel straws to restaurants throughout the country (bamboo is also a popular option). Ho Chi Minh City’s vegetarian food delivery House of Chay has introduced bamboo toothbrushes, the first produced by a Vietnamese company, as a trial for a full suite of sustainable home products. Several groups have come together for the No Plastic Straw Challenge, including Zero Waste Saigon, which issues certification badges to restaurants who remove plastic from their operations. The Thai company Mega Market, whose HCMC store caters to middle-income Vietnamese, requires customers to use recycled cardboard boxes or purchase a reusable plastic bag to carry their groceries. In each case, the businesses involved position their products as tackling an environmental problem that is relevant to Vietnamese lives.

Steel straw ad on An’s Facebook page. “Coming soon. A straw that does not hurt the environment.” @VnExpress

If you are operating in an area beset by pollution or other environmental issues, then you’ll want to take proactive steps to assure the local community that your business is part of the solution. For instance, in the tourism industry you can show off your green credentials by cleaning up the local environment and promoting low-impact eco-tourism, which has the added benefit of ensuring the sights your customers come for are still worth seeing. In the past, luxury comfort and environmental concerns were often at odds, but in recent years sustainable and low impact properties offering an escape into nature have hit big among budgets from backpacker to Mark Zuckerberg (who stayed at an Ecolodge in Sapa in 2011).

Emphasize savings

Rooftop solar panels are becoming more common in Vietnamese cities, and the government hopes to increase them to 26 percent of households by 2030. While the government’s reasoning is based on carbon reduction, the appeal for many is practical and financial: Vietnam gets a lot of sun, which homeowners can take advantage of to neutralize their electric bills. Additionally, they make for a suitable canopy and can add to a building’s market value (key in a country where real-estate investment is a major market driver).

The point of that example is not that you should go all-solar (though an energy-saving “green building” is certainly a good investment), but that emphasizing the under-recognized cost-effectiveness of many green products will go a long way towards putting potential adopters at ease. Solar water heaters and efficient appliances (air conditioners especially) have long been popular in Vietnam for this reason.

Realize the Potential

Public infrastructure in general is under-developed in Vietnam, which creates both challenges and opportunities. Because transportation, waste management, recycling, and renewable energy (to name a few) are still in their early stages, Vietnam has a chance to invest in technologies of the future, creating jobs and entire industries with less disruption to existing ones. Regional governments have already taken part in solar, wind, and sustainable agriculture projects under the government’s green growth initiative. And each June, Hanoi puts on a Green Living Festival, granting publicity to businesses and civil organizations that promote eco-friendly practices and lifestyle.

Vietnam is still a heavily export-based economy, so many of those who operate in Vietnam also ship products overseas. An increasing number of consumers are attracted to products certified for sustainable production, fair trade, non-toxic manufacturing, and organic materials. Certifications like TÜV Rheinland* Vietnam’s DETOX Control – for toxin-free apparel and shoes – can assure them that they are making a sustainable choice. Since the Vietnamese market is more open than ever to international trade, meeting these demands will serve to differentiate products and likely prove beneficial in expanding them to new markets and partnerships.

Within Vietnam, methods of production that meet international standards have their own appeal. A cosmopolitan image (consider the prestige of Italian fashion or Korean cosmetics) possesses cultural cachet and can draw the growing Vietnamese middle class who are willing to pay a bit extra for higher standards of safety, quality, and ethics. It’s no coincidence that Western restaurants and retailers have been pioneers in positioning themselves as anti-waste.

Finally, Vietnamese consumers are a skeptical bunch, accustomed to decoding marketing claims, so attempts to “greenwash” your business with exaggerated claims of environmental practices won’t go far. Rather, make clear policy statements which are backed by concrete examples, such as stating a percentage of proceeds which go towards environmental protection or carbon offsets, and breaking down the details on your company website. In this way, you can build a reputation that positions your business as a leader in Vietnam’s rising green economy.

By Derek Wells, an International Relations Associate and Copywriter at @EloQ Communications (formerly Vero IMC Vietnam). In the interest of transparency, TÜV Rheinland is a client of ours.

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