Twenty years ago “green” brands were outliers on the broad consumer spectrum. They were viewed as a novelty niche, and when consumers had the chance to engage with them they felt great about doing so. But socially conscious branding efforts were not necessarily high on average consumer checklists. Today, however, going green has gone mainstream, and the brands that are not making concerted efforts to execute ecologically sound business operations are the new outliers. Increased conversation and dialogue about global warming and carbon dioxide have opened consumers’ eyes to the magnitude of brand environmental footprints.
Consumers across demographics and age groups, are more educated about green initiatives, and more willing to seek out brands with strong environmental reputations. But nowhere is this shift in priorities more evident than among young audiences. Millennials don’t go as far as to call themselves environmentalists, however, as a generation they are conscious about consumption. A Pew Survey found Millennials to be more supportive of stricter environmental laws and more ardently in favor of clean energy development. But this group of young professionals also knows that they share an equal responsible with policy makers to enact change. Remember, this was the generation that was told they could do anything throughout their childhoods; and as a result they feel empowered to make conscious choices that will move the needle toward a cleaner and greener planet.
Coming of age with smartphones and social media have made Millennials highly adept at seeking out information and engaging in global, digital conversations that support their interests. They don’t wait for companies to spark PR campaigns around corporate sustainability, they seek out information on the brands they engage with on an everyday basis. Their proclivity for always on engagement and communications has forced brands to up the ante on transparency; half-hearted recycling campaigns no longer suffice - Millennials want, actually, demand to see real action. If a Millennial consumer senses that a brand’s actions do not align with its messaging, they will disengage and move on to a competitive company that is making an effort. Nielsen found that 3 out of 4 Millennials are even willing to pay extra for a sustainably produced product. This generation firmly believes that the brands they choose to engage with - either on social media or through direct purchases - says a lot about who they are as individuals. They don’t want to be associated with brands that are not concerned with social action. Millennial consumers don’t just want to pitch in with environmental movements, they want their efforts to be seen across their social networks, and 59% will pay more for brands that bolster this image.
The rise of minimalism is also having an impact on the Millennial generation. Young consumers realize that their environmental impact is not just a measure of how often they recycle or bike to work instead of drive, but is also a derivative of how and how much they buy. There is a movement among young people to do less with more. They witnessed their parents fall into financial hardships in 2007 and are making concerted efforts not to overconsume. These new attitudes are bolstered by initiatives like #GreenFriday, which is the antidote to the biggest spending day of the year: Black Friday. Swap.com is one company who led the charge on encouraging shoppers to partake in Green Friday. Instead of spending more in stores, the trending hashtag encouraged consumers across the country to opt out of shopping and spend time outdoors. They are among a new crop of startups dedicated to bring thrifting to the digital age and teaching consumers to look for the value in items they’ve previously deemed old or out of style. A major component of shrinking carbon footprints is redefining popular notions around shopping and consumption. Americans are known for employing product-hungry attitudes, yet Millennials are realizing that this mentality leads to excessive waste. The average consumer throws away 70 lbs of discarded clothing every year - 85% of which ends up in landfills. Retailers, especially, are starting to take definitive action to improve sustainability across their industry; many brands are producing eco-conscious lines made from recycled textiles, sustainable materials, and vintage clothing; additionally brands including H&M even given their shoppers discount incentives to swap out old clothing instead of throwing it away.
Among younger generations brand image matters just as much as product functionality. To stay relevant and competitive, especially as Millennials assume more spending power, brands have to make concerted efforts to clean up their products and business operations with green solutions. Additionally, companies have the opportunity to forge stronger ties with young demographics by supporting and igniting grassroots eco-friendly programs. Millennials want to engage with brands, both on and offline, but only if brands lead with authentic, social missions.