Saving the planet is top of the news agenda for all generations. But it’s Millennials and Gen Z you should be paying the closest attention to.
In the wake of the G7 Summit and the IPCC Report a few weeks ago, conscious consumers everywhere will have been reading about climate commitments and holding a lot of important people to account. And your brand won’t escape their unflinching stare.
Whether it’s Millennials with a conscience about where they spend their money, or radical Gen Z activists willing to skip school and protest about climate change, it adds up to one clear message. Brands must show real commitment to the planet: not just green-tinted smoke and mirrors.
Back in 2019 we wrote about the conscious consumer and what we termed ‘the armchair eco-warrior’ — those concerned about the environment but slow to act, particularly if it was inconvenient or expensive. Well, you can thank covid for a collective volte face: those armchair eco-warriors are standing up, banging their fists on the table and demanding your brand does better on green issues.
Why? We’re in the grip of loss aversion. The pandemic has opened our eyes to what real inconvenience looks like, aka the debilitating impact of loss. Grief, normal freedoms vetoed, a ban on hugs and touching. People simply won’t tolerate further dispossession in any area of their lives — not least the planet and our very existence.
CNBC reports that 76% of Millennials are worried about climate change and it’s impacting how they spend their money. They are struggling under the weight of responsibility, described as “… carrying a ‘transitional burden’ between the unsustainable habits of Baby Boomers and Gen X, and the more socially and environmentally conscious Gen Z. Older Millennials feel they need to atone for the mistakes of previous generations while setting up a sustainable future for themselves and their children.”
And what of radical Gen Z? They are the change-makers and the rabble-rousers incensed by the state the planet is in. Over 70% are willing to protest and 52% say they are willing to get arrested for it. Nearly 75% are willing to make serious changes to their lifestyle to help the planet, including passing up starting a family. Gen Z don’t just want you to stop unsustainable practices: two thirds say they will stop buying your brand if they don’t see you actively trying to reverse climate change.
Bottom line is that both generations mean business, with their time and their money.
So how can you move your brand into green territory without falling into a green-washing trap? Here’s three things you can start doing now.
Job #1: Promote Supporting Local
Consumers want to shop local, even if it’s not the most convenient choice. It’s an impact of covid that benefits independent businesses, many of whom source locally themselves and count sustainability as one of their values. Take Elvis & Kresse, a Kent-based design company who take decommissioned fire hoses from the London Fire Brigade and recraft them into luxury lifestyle pieces.
Lockdown took away human connection. For many of us — save for endless zoom calls — popping to the local shop for supplies and a chat with a person behind the perspex screen manning the till was the only lifeline they had for months. Keeping the local florist and butcher going with your patronage is more than an unwillingness to lose the local high street: it’s personal now. We don’t want to see people we like and appreciate go under.
Even big retailers have seen a sharp growth in shoppers in their smaller local convenience stores rather than making the trip to large superstores. This was driven not just out of safety, but says Mike Watkins, head of retailer and business insight at Nielsen, “sensitivity of the consumer to supporting local businesses”.
Job #2: Get Real About Pricing
Two years ago we identified that 55% of people fall into the ‘armchair eco-warrior’ category and a lot of that had to do with price. They didn’t want to give up their cheap detergent for the sake of a green stamp on the packaging and a vague promise to save some trees.
In 2021 that’s all changed and the likelihood of people being willing to pay a premium for green brand practices has increased. This year, GreenPrint’s Business of Sustainability Index found that 77% of Millennials are willing to pay more for sustainable items compared to just 57% of Boomers.
For Gen Z, growing up under the looming threat of a dying planet and the crushing uncertainty that brings, means they simply don’t have the patience to entertain green-washing.
Ivy Jaguzny is a youth activist and press lead at Zero Hour. In research conducted by Wunderman Thompson Intelligence, she explained that many businesses have yet to recognise inaction on climate is a dealbreaker for her generation: “There’s a difference between mentioning climate change and acting like our lives and our futures depend on it, because they do.” she confirmed.
Will Skeaping, an Extinction Rebellion activist, went one step further by declaring: “If companies think Gen Z audiences will give a flying sh*t about anything they’ve ever done, if they drop the ball on this (climate change), they’re over. That’s it.”
Job #3: Be Honest About Sustainability
Havas published their ‘Meaningful Brands Report 2021’ in May this year, surveying 395,000 consumers. The headlines are a stark warning for brands: consumer distrust is pervasive with 71% saying they have little faith brands will live up to their promises. While almost the same amount desperately want brands to make a meaningful difference for the good of the planet and society, there is a huge gap between what they want and their trust in brands to deliver it.
So how can you be honest about the journey your brand is making while also being able to acknowledge you’re not 100% squeaky clean?
Perhaps start by not following The North Face’s lead. The outdoors retailer found itself in the firing line after refusing to fulfil an order of jackets for Innovex Downhole Solutions — a leader in the oil and gas industry. Their CEO, Adam Anderson, took to LinkedIn to express his dismay, pointing out that The North Face uses hydrocarbons in most, if not all, of their products.
Then the CEO of Innovex’s competitor, Liberty Energy’s Chris Wright, took a shot at The North Face on behalf of the entire industry, accusing them of double standards and thanking The North Face for using oil and gas. Being trolled by the CEOs of high profile fossil fuel companies is surely a new low for The North Face, a brand so intent on convincing a demanding conscious consumer of their green creds.
In a happier example of transparency and commitment to reversing climate change, Ella’s Kitchen is one of the first UK companies to become a B Corp brand. Far from green-washing, the about section states, “Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.”
Add to that, Ella’s Kitchen have published their social and environmental impact report, which is in effect a 36-page mission statement that outlines the brand’s sustainability goals. In it they note the good stuff they have done so far and what else they are planning to achieve by 2030.
Passivity won’t cut it anymore. Loss aversion is accelerating consumer choices at pace. But if you embrace tangible action, even when it’s inconvenient, you have a great shot at keeping up with your audience and the needs of the planet.