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June 03, 2019

What does Gen Z want? Sustainability

Written by Lucy Hartley
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What does Gen Z want? This is a weighty question on the minds of brands everywhere. Born 1997 onward, Gen Z is about to become the world’s largest group of consumers, wielding hundreds of billions in spending power, according to a recently published Bloomberg article. While the needs and hopes of Gen Z’ers are by no means homogenous, one thing is clear: they care about sustainability. And that’s why when it comes to this group, it is so important that businesses placing a priority on sustainability and ESG in their communications and in their wider strategy if they want to be here in the years to come.

Gen Z Will Pay More for Sustainability

According to Bloomberg, nearly half of Gen Z would pay more for a product if the brand or retailer were to promote environmental initiatives, compared to roughly 30 percent of baby boomers who feel the same way. Their interest in sustainability is influencing everything from the rise of recycled clothing to bans on single-use plastics and a push for shared resources globally. 

As, The Grocer reports, this is a generation that recognizes the political power in their spending habits: 

As the youth climate protests and the Extinction Rebellion have shown us, nowhere is consumer scrutiny towards sustainable corporate practices more intense than among young people. Our data shows that almost three in 10 Generation Z (aged 16-21) in the UK do not feel positive about the future of the environment. This is no wonder, considering how this generation have spent their most formative years being bombarded with messages surrounding the degradation of the natural world.

This discontent has clearly affected their shopping behavior too – over half say they have reduced the amount of single-use plastic they use in the past 12 months.

Almost 40% of UK Gen Zers say products that use recycled/sustainable materials are important in their day-to-day purchases, but this is still overshadowed by the over 70% who say affordability is a key consideration in their daily purchases. While affordability and choice remain key concerns – especially among the cash-conscious youth – the real challenge lies in education.

Bloomberg notes that the “willingness to recycle clothing is something Europe’s Gen Zers have in common with their U.S. counterparts, and it could become a long-term worry for apparel makers.”

The Opportunity for Brands

But with long-term worry comes opportunity for businesses to connect with Gen Z through stronger communications about sustainability and ESG initiatives. The Grocer says that "two thirds of Gen Z think brands that make a public promise to be sustainable are more trustworthy, and over half say that if they realize that a brand/product isn’t environmentally friendly, they’re likely to switch to one that is."

What You Should Do

The question is, what is your brand doing to discuss your commitment to sustainability/ESG? The key is to tell a consistent narrative about sustainability/ESG across digital channels that is an authentic reflection of what is happening in your business. You don’t have to be perfect – but you should be communicating about your strategy, your goals, and how you’re going to reach them. As Bloomberg points out, Gen Z does not know a world without the internet, and they live on social media. They develop brand loyalties on apps such as Instagram and YouTube. “From Boston to Beijing, companies that expect to prosper going forward must first learn how to reach this socially conscious, always-connected cohort,” concludes Bloomberg. As we blogged recently, doing so starts with:

  • Learning: take stock of your businesses’ commitment to sustainability/ESG both corporately and at the office level. You might uncover pockets of your business that have embraced sustainability at a grassroots level. Identify opportunities to begin adopting sustainability/ESGand obtain executives sponsorship. 
  • Planning: either develop an ROI-based strategy or create a team to do it. Your strategy necessarily needs to include a plan for keeping your stakeholders up to date on your efforts – not once but all year-round.
  • Executing: create a narrative about your commitment to sustainability and how this relates to the long-term sustainability and strategy of your business, regularly reporting about your efforts everywhere consumers encounter your brand. Your narrative should be anchored in your website, constantly updated with compelling testimonials and fact-based reports about how you are practicing sustainability. It’s important to complement your website with content across your social platforms, capitalizing on the attributes of each, such as visual storytelling on Instagram.

At Investis Digital, we work with many businesses to amplify their commitment to sustainability/ESG. We often work with companies to create strategies and marketing/communications programs that communicate their sustainability commitment to investors, customers, and employees. As a next step, we suggest assessing your corporate brand to better understand gaps and opportunities around leveraging your story to drive business impact. Contact us to learn more.

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