The Greenest Generation

The Truth Behind Millennials and the Green Movement

By Published on .

Janis Gaudelli
Janis Gaudelli

Are millennials leading the way toward a greener society? In a new survey, Generate Insight explored this generation's involvement in environmental issues. Here, its senior VP, Janis Gaudelli, a longtime youth culture and trends consultant, discusses what her company found and what it means to marketers.

There have been numerous articles on how millennials are leading the environmental movement toward a greener, healthier planet. The reality is not quite so clear-cut. Even though millennials are known to be the most environmentally educated generation, they often do not take action on their extensive knowledge, whether that means volunteering for green causes or making purchase decisions based on brands' green attributes.

Generate Insight decided to dig deeper to discover the truth behind this generation's eco-enthusiasm and involvement in the green movement, particularly as these attitudes relate to green marketing. To that end, we surveyed 400 millennials nationwide between the ages of 13 and 29. The findings clearly show that millennials are not yet truly the generation spearheading the green movement.

This is not to say they don't want to be: 69% of millennials surveyed expressed genuine interest in the environment, but they also admitted to a lack of personal involvement in green-related activities. In short, this group understands the why but is unsure of the how.

Millennials are one of the most highly educated demographics when it comes to understanding the importance of ecological and environmental conditions, and they glean most of their information from the web (79%). When it comes to the green movement, there are seemingly limitless opportunities for brands to engage with consumers on an interactive level in real time using digital media.

Brands still have to walk the walk, however: 76% of millennials emphasized the importance of brands being ecologically conscious. This generation of consumers would like brands to be more environmentally responsible and give back some of their earnings to support the green movement, which makes the brand more credible in their eyes. But this begs an interesting question when it comes to their wallets: All things being equal, are millennials willing to spend more money on a brand that supports an environmental cause?

Generate Insight posed the following question to a large sample of millennials: "If you had to choose between two brands, Brand A, which is a little more expensive but gives 5% of its proceeds back to an environmental cause, or Brand B, which is less expensive but does not give back, which brand would you choose?"

In the survey, 64% of millennials 18 to 29 said they would be willing to pay more for a product if they knew some of their investment was going toward an environmental cause. On the other hand, 71% of the 13- to 17-year-olds chose Brand B.

A key takeaway from this study is that brands need be mindful of their target demographics. Clearly the marketing strategy should not be universal across all age groups when it comes to tapping into the green movement. Where the older segment of millennials chose a brand that was more socially responsible and eco-conscious, the teenage demographic still showed concern about the price point. Brands need to be aware of these two divergent segments and approach them differently when it comes to product-related green initiatives.

While price is an important consideration in millennials' purchasing decisions, the notion of instant gratification also comes into play. Indeed, the teenage "here and now" mind-set is affecting the way this demographic perceives the green movement and whether, or to what extent, they become actively involved. There is no immediate solution to solving the planet's ecological and environmental issues, and as a result teens can become overwhelmed and feel their involvement will not make a difference; 48% of the survey respondents agreed.

Beyond price, teenagers also question why they should spend more on a product when they will neither get to experience the immediate gratification of giving back nor notice the direct ecological/environmental impact of their extra expenditure and choice. That perception is a major reason millennials are not leading the green movement. In response, we suggest marketers focus on being innovative and creative at strategically linking appropriate green-movement interests with more immediate, observable and attainable results.

Furthermore, there is a lot of room to improve the young consumer's awareness of environmentally friendly brands. When we asked millennials to recall specific brands that actively support the green movement, 50% could not identify a single one. Getting the word out to younger consumers and getting them involved in ecological/environmental efforts will build eco-awareness and consumer loyalty.

Janis Gaudelli is senior VP and head of Generate Insight, the millennial-focused market-research division of next-generation media company Generate. Generate creates intellectual-property assets by producing integrated content solutions across all the media platforms that connect the advertising, technology and entertainment communities.

Brands that were recognized by surveyed participants as environmentally friendly included, in order of preference, GreenWorks (by Clorox, but GreenWorks was mentioned more often and separately from Clorox), Seventh Generation, Toyota, Whole Foods, Kashi, Pepsi, Honda, Method and Coke.

How can brands capitalize on these findings? Brands should direct and support this generation to take action on their environment and use what they know, in some respects aligning marketing with corporate social responsibility.

Brands could get involved in classroom education, create a competitively priced green product line or "live within the moment" by creating environmentally friendly packaging, going public with the company's carbon footprint or using solar canopies at public events, for example.

Corporations that want to further tap into value surrounding the green movement should share their environmental impact in novel and interesting ways. Presenting the impact of a consumer's behaviors in simple, effective and attainable ways will encourage this generation to take action.

For example, a brand could use the following messages to prove how, together, the brand and Millennials can make an immediate and tangible difference:

  • Half a million trees could be saved each year if every family in the U.S. recycled their newspapers.
  • Cutting back on your shower time by two minutes can save 10 gallons of water.
  • Cold? Put on a sweater and turn the heat down. Americans could save more than 500,000 barrels of oil each day (that's more than 21 million gallons) just by turning down the heat a few degrees.

Millennials grasp the environmental consequences of their actions and have the education, motivation and social awareness to participate in the green movement. Brands now have the opportunity to build on this upswell and support the transition of millennials from merely knowing the why to understanding and living the how.

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