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5 Reasons Generation Z Could Be the Ones to Save Us

Image credit: Elaine Thompson/AP

Generation Z — children and young adults born since 1995 — is just beginning to produce today’s voters, shoppers, workers and parents. What are the chances that this generation, which has grown up amid the constant hum of social issues and environmental causes, is the one that steps up to address sustainability concerns seriously?

Five factors suggest it might be. It’s early days yet, of course, but for those who worry that the social and environmental problems facing the world are insurmountable, this young generation does offer five reasons to hope — as well as opportunities to brands who can embrace sustainability authentically.

  1. What they buy
    Our latest research has six in ten 16- to 20-year-olds saying they will go out of their way to buy products and services from businesses they know are helping to create a better world. We all know there’s a gap between what people say they will do in surveys and what they actually do in practice, but six in ten is higher than similar surveys report for Millennials (five in ten), and Generation Z is acutely aware of the personal brand benefits of doing and sharing good. This indicator at least suggests that the purchasing behaviour of a generation that instinctively wants to share no-make-up selfies and ice-bucket challenges will favour brands that are similarly visibly connected to doing good.

  2. Andy Last
    will present more insights
    about Generation Z
    next week at SB'14 London
  3. What they believe
    They don’t buy greenwash. This is a generation that has a sufficiently sophisticated view of communications to understand the difference between brand image and reality. Our research shows that while they trust what they learn about businesses sustainability initiatives from journalists, employees and even packaging, they are more sceptical about what they hear brands saying in their own advertising and social media postings.   
  4. What they accept
    At the same time, they’re happy with businesses making a profit out of ‘doing good’. They understand the deal and will reward those brands that are straight with them about their reasons for tackling social and environmental issues. Our research shows that it’s the dissembling that turns them off to brands, not the fact that brands exist to make money for businesses.
  5. What they want for a better world
    Our research showed a remarkable degree of altruism, even for people at a stage in their lives when they’d be expected to want to change the world for good. Their priorities for a better world were issues that don’t directly affect young people in the UK — such as an end to global poverty and greater access to water and sanitation. They ranked these higher than issues such as climate change and gender equality, which are more likely to affect them. This may be because for them environmentally conscious behavior is automatic and a licence to operate for the companies they choose to buy from and work for. And gender equality, too, may be something that younger women feel more empowered to feel, as every Dove and Nike film reinforces.
  6. Where they want to work
    One of the clearest indicators in our research was that nearly half of those we surveyed said they would rank working for a company that helps make the world a better place as important a consideration as salary. For a generation that for the most part in the UK is fortunate to sit higher up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, with their basic physiological, safety and friendship needs met, it’s perhaps not surprising that the needs of esteem and self-actualisation find expression in choice of work for many of them.

Andy Last is a co-founder of salt and author of Business on a Mission: How to Build a Sustainable Brand. He leads salt Social Purpose, which helps businesses and brands find the right social mission and communicate it… [Read more about Andy Last]


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