The environment is Generation Z’s number one concern, but beware of “greenwashing”
As the youngest American generation begins to enter the consumer, workforce and polling market, they have proven to be on a mission to improve their planet. But while some companies try to meet the sustainability demands of Gen Z, others might just present a facade.
Gen Z stores are green
Sustainability is important to 19-year-old Trinity Gbla. Growing up with wildfires and extreme heat near her home in southern California, Gbla said recent years have highlighted climate change as an increasingly pressing issue. She’s not alone: Climate change / environmental protection was Gen Z’s No.1 concern, followed closely by unemployment and healthcare / disease prevention, according to recent Deloitte survey .
Trinity Gbla, a junior at Howard University
Photo: Trinidad Gbla
“There is such a huge climate crisis in the world that you just can’t ignore it,” Gbla said. “Usually when I go shopping I like to see what is ethically sourced, or if it’s eco-friendly. Price is definitely something that’s important to me, especially because I’m a student, so it’s like, I’m broke. But I’m willing to pay for more expensive things when they come from ethical sources. “
This desire for sustainable products among Generation Z is robust. According to a 2020 First Insight report, 73% of Gen Z consumers surveyed were willing to pay more for sustainable products, more than any other generation. And, although this was the youngest cohort with many still in school, they were willing to spend the most on extra costs, with 54% saying they would pay more than 10% of them. price increase for a product produced in a sustainable way.
This year, more than a quarter of Millennials and Gen Zs around the world said their purchasing decisions were influenced by the impact of certain companies on the environment. Gbla said she can already see the influence of her generation in using their purchasing power to keep businesses at a higher level, with many companies launching sustainability campaigns and highlighting green practices.
They want to work in green companies
But consumer spending is only a small part of the equation. Gen Zs also want the companies they work for to be environmentally friendly.
“We are in a transition to a more sustainable economy,” said Jen Cannon, vice president of business development at Impax Asset Management, which manages $ 45 billion in assets. “If I’m a company that doesn’t even tackle climate change, what’s the future of my organization? “
Failure to address Generation Z’s environmental concerns not only jeopardizes a company’s reputation, but also its future workforce.
“They want to have a job that aligns with their values,” Cannon said.
Almost half – 49% – of Gen Z members polled by Deloitte said their personal ethics played a role in their career choices. Theo Daniels is one of them.
The 19-year-old entered Howard University last year as a freshman in the computer science department. He has since switched to biology and political science, a move he says was motivated by his passion for the environment.
“I really want to do something impactful and useful,” he said. “I’m not saying you can’t do that in computers. I felt like for me, however, it would be something related to the environment.”
Theo Daniels, second year student at Howard University
Photo: Natae Daniels
With his new career path, Daniels hopes to find policy solutions to hold companies accountable for their environmental impact – he says it would be in the best interest of the planet and consumers.
“Being able to find ways to communicate this science in a policy change, to get things done in the right direction, is something that is very important to me,” he said. “There is a lot of work to be done and I would love to be a part of it. I would love to do my part to make the planet a better place to live.”
Beware of “greenwashing”
But if brands adapt to meet the demands of their passionate consumers, it is not always as our generation hoped. Sustainability marketing has become increasingly prevalent as companies attempt to win over Gen Z audiences, said Jennifer Schmidt, senior partner at consultancy McKinsey & Company.
“People are using a scenario that has something sustainable, low waste, the right ingredients, or the right fabrics that you find on their websites, on packaging, as part of their marketing,” Schmidt said. “I can’t think of a brand that doesn’t do it right now.”
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This made buying eco-friendly clothing frustrating for Perri Russell. While there are many green labels, environmental messages, and eco-friendly labels, as a self-proclaimed ethical consumer, Russell knows that what a business says can be very different from what it does.
“Our world is swamped with advertisements and promotions and a culture that begs you to just consume, consume, consume,” Russell said. “It’s really hard to be an ethical consumer. It takes a lot of thought, education and care, and that’s because companies have made it so difficult.”
There is a name for this practice: “greenwashing”.
Greenwashing is the deceptive practice of portraying a business as being environmentally friendly without adopting legitimate sustainable operations.
Jason Dorsey, Gen Z expert and author of “Zconomy: How Gen Z will change the future of business — and what to do it,” said it was a “rapidly growing” marketing trend.
“Greenwashing is very real and seems to be developing every day. The reason is that Gen Z – who are now up to 25 years old – have made it clear that protecting the environment and tackling climate change is a priority for them, not only as consumers but also as consumers. as employees and even as shareholders and voters, ”he said. “The combination of the pressure and expectations of Gen Z as trendsetters and the desire to ‘be greener’ is not only used to cover up past actions of companies that have harmed the environment,” but also as a reason to charge more for products. “
How to tell if a product is really green
Transparency is the best way to tell the difference between a genuinely green business and one that just puts a green label on it. If a product has a green label or eco-tagline, but doesn’t have the information to back it up, Russell said it’s often the biggest giveaway that it probably isn’t a truly product. sustainable.
This is why, for her, companies that make it clear to consumers where their ingredients come from and publish clear statistics and information on sourcing, manufacturing and direct environmental impact are the ones that she is most fond of. eager to support. Most of the time, that means avoiding some of the bigger retailers.
“Small businesses also work hard to build brand loyalty, so transparency about sustainability and working practices is a way for them to attract their sustainability-focused customer base,” said Russell.
Gbla recommends shopping at thrift stores when possible to ensure that you are not contributing to the “fast fashion” industry, which is not always good for the environment. She also tries to buy less and invest in lifetime products instead, which she says has the added benefit of saving her money in the long run.
Ultimately, Gbla said, sustainability is about using less and being more intentional in your purchases, a good habit for both your finances and the planet.
CNBC “College Voices″ Is a series written by CNBC interns from universities across the country about getting their college education, managing their own money, and launching their careers in these extraordinary times. Katie Jahns is an intern at CNBC and works with the Long Form Unit. She is a rising junior at Northwestern University studying journalism and psychology. His mentor is Nate Skid. The series is edited by Cindy Perman.