November 19, 2020

The next generation of consumers demands sustainability

Lauren Rader

Director of Strategy

I am constantly asked the question: “What is next for consumers?” And in the world of COVID-19, it’s never been tougher to nail down a clear answer. But one thing that I can say with certainty is that COVID-19 has propelled pre-pandemic trends forward exponentially; one of them being sustainability. Over 17,000 Consumers were asked by GWI how the importance of cutting down on single-use plastics, reducing carbon footprints, or companies behaving more sustainability has changed for them as a result of COVID-19; 82% citied at least one of these initiatives as having become  at least a little more important (56% citied at least one of these initiatives as having become a lot more important). This consumer expectation, and often demand, for companies to step up and be more sustainable will continue to grow across generations. But it’s a particular sticking point for those consumers on the cusp of adulthood – Gen Z. 


Gen Zers (the generation born after 1996) are just making their way into adulthood. They have lived most of their lives in a time of financial stability, but they have also grown up with endless access to information (often information overload), and they are being hit especially hard by COVID-19. Gen Z has many similarities to the millennial generation, but they are also unique in their own ways. Here are a few things you should know about them. 


They are ambitious and altruistic.

According to PEW research Gen Z is “on track to be the most diverse, best-educated generation yet.” 

Gen Z votes with their dollars, whether that be for social or environmental causes.

They are more pragmatic with their money than the millennial generation, but they are willing to spend on items/brands that directly benefit a social or environmental concern. They rank ethical business/manufacturing as one of the top factors when purchasing. Global News Wire

Localism and community are top of mind.

They think it’s very important to contribute to the community they live in. 

Their fear of global warming is rising, and they are taking action. 
  • 54% of Gen Zers say the earth is getting warmer due to human activity. PEW
  • Thousands of teens from 16 countries participated in the global school strike in 2019. WGSN
  • Gen Z-er Greta Thunberg inspired 4 million people to join the global climate strike on September 20, 2019 –the largest climate demonstration in human history. 2020’s protest still happened but were adapted for COVID-19. 


When it comes to advertising, Only 15% of Gen Z feels they are represented. Now is the time to start recognizing and preparing for this new group of consumers. We have a few tips to prepare for them, but as you consider what is right for your business, make sure that the social and environmental commitments you choose are best for you and are causes that you plan to live and breathe as a part of your values. 


Figure out how you can minimize or neutralize your environmental impact.

Think through your entire supply chain in terms of sustainably sourced and/or recycled materials, championing recycling, upcycling, and re-use, energy sources, water usage, etc.

  • Adidas has introduced a sneaker made to be remade. 
  • Etsy at its core is a platform that lets upcycled and recycled crafts thrive, but they most recently have become the first major online shopping destination to offset 100% of carbon emissions from shipping.


Make sustainability accessible.
  • Sustainable products often come with a higher price tag. But many of those in Generation Z (54%) state that they are willing to spend an incremental 10% or more on sustainable products. Take note of Avocado’s program, which includes trial periods, interest-free financing, and warranties to incentivize a higher purchase price. 
  • Make it easy for consumers. Whether you help with repairs, incentivize with a discount or simply make it easier for consumers to recycle vs. trashing old things (see Madewell’s program), making sustainability a part of everyday life is key. 


Give back.

Whether your business model supports an environmental organization on a daily basis or simply through a few sales per year where profits are donated, the idea of using a purchase to do good for the planet is attractive to many shoppers. 


Start somewhere.

Don’t underestimate the power of small changes to make a big impact. Check out Reformation’s amazing sustainability framework and the UN’s sustainable development goals for inspiration. 


In the end, Gen Z is watching from their Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook accounts to see which brands take a stand for something. Will your brand make the next bold statement?


Feel that? That’s curiosity.

Let’s solve something together.