The global population is the youngest it’s ever been, with 50 percent of the world aged 30 or under, and the top issue for this group is climate change. In fact, nearly nine out of 10 Gen Zers are worried about the environment. When you couple this with the massive spending power of Gen Z (in the US, Gen Z spends $44bn annually and influences a total of $600bn in household spend), one thing becomes clear: brands need to re-examine their approach to sustainability if they haven’t already.
From 16-year-old activists Greta Thunberg and Isra Hirsi (the co-founder of the U.S. Youth Climate Strike), to 13-year-old Autumn Peltier, the Chief Water Commissioner for the Anishinabek Nation, this generation is taking the lead and looking to each other to combat climate change. Their purchase power is only going to grow, and they’re going to continue to vote with their wallets.
For instance, I have a dear friend whose nine-year-old daughter is a vegetarian, demands that they buy organic food, cut waste, don’t use plastic, and advocates they buy and use anything that is sustainable. This isn’t because my friend and his wife are push-overs (VERY far from it), but their daughter is engaged, educated, and sees climate change happening right in front of her eyes, and she wants to do everything she can about it because she wants (and deserves) a habitable planet for her, and everyone one of her generation to grow old, and live a full life on.
Sustainable values have moved beyond corporate altruism, and are now necessary business practices for brands that expect to be relevant. It’s pretty clear that if you’re not going to make a shift towards sustainability in your product, someone else will, and the numbers show that consumers will switch allegiances as soon as they find out about it, or at least give it a try. 77 percent of Millennials and Gen Z beauty consumers would switch to a sustainable product that offered the result that they were looking for. It’s not a stretch to say that brands that don’t make the move towards sustainability are going to be like the brands that didn’t embrace digital, and four to five years from now, they’ll be scrambling to catch-up, or will go under.
While there’s no question that sustainability practices are more expensive, it is absolutely possible for brands to become more profitable by being more sustainable and environmentally conscious. Just look at brands that are “doing well by doing good:” Alaffia is one of the top-selling body care brands at Whole Foods, and was founded with the primary goal of getting the nation of Togo out of poverty. Thanks to Gen Z, resale clothing companies like ThredUp and The Real Real, or recycled clothing brands like Upcycle LA are on the rise.
My advice? Stop with the analysis paralysis and just commit to going sustainable. The data is there – this is what consumers want and are demanding. It’s not something that isn’t going to pan out as long as you are genuine in your actions.
Becoming a socially and environmentally conscious business can sound intimidating, but brands don’t need to go “all-sustainable” all at once.
They can take small but important steps immediately to partner with not-for-profits like SeaTrees, which empowers local communities around the world by creating jobs for people to reforest the oceans, create habitats for ocean species, and capture and sequester carbon out of our atmosphere. Even if it’s not an official partnership, start by making it a company policy to help offset your climate impact. We’ve actually done just that by creating a company policy where we purchase SeaTrees to wipe out the impact of any air travel, personal or business, made by our team members.
Brands should not be afraid of talking about any and all efforts they are making. Sustainability is a journey, and it’s not about where you’ve been, but where you’re headed. Large traditional brands can be nervous about promoting a new product or effort because they’re afraid that they’re going to be put under a lens and scrutinized over everything else that they’re doing. As long as you’re honest about your intention, and where you’re headed, that’s the main message consumers want to hear.
Richard Branson once said “The point of a business is to make life better for other people.” Brands that take this philosophy to heart, will ultimately find that what’s good for people, is good for business too.