They Are Almost Green

To say that teens are leading the green movement is not only untrue but unrealistic as well. Even though they and their Millennial siblings are known to be the most environmentally educated generation, they're not assertively taking action on their knowledge. When it comes to brand involvement in green issues, however, they have a nuanced view.

To uncover the truth behind this generation's eco-enthusiasm and involvement in the green movement, Generate Insight surveyed teens between the ages of 13 and 17. Our findings show that there's a lot to be done before it can truly be said that this generation is at the forefront of the green movement, but there are ways that brands can take action both now and down the road.

Sixty-nine percent expressed genuine interest in the environment, but also admitted to a lack of personal involvement in green-related activities. It became evident this group of youngsters understood the "why" but were unsure of the "how."

Teens are one of the most highly educated demographics when it comes to the green movement. Eco-awareness is bred online. This generation obtains most of its information from the Web. For brands targeting this demographic, there are seemingly limitless opportunities for engagement on an interactive, organic level in real time.

Indeed, 76% noted the importance of brands being involved in the green movement. This generation of consumers likes to see brands being more responsible and giving back some of their time and earnings to a cause.

But an interesting question arises out of the pockets of this generation: All things being equal, are teens willing to spend more money on a brand that supports an environmental cause? We posed that question to our Insight community members. Teens would choose the less expensive, non-green brand. Their elder siblings, those between 18 and 29, on the other hand, would be willing to pay more for a product if they knew some of their investment was going towards an environmental cause.

This is important information for brands to absorb. If brands want to attract and help younger consumers become more eco-conscious, they need to be mindful of price points. Teens are savvy shoppers and have leaner budgets these days, so "environmentally-conscious" brands/products are not necessarily going to drive purchase -- the price-point will.

Beyond price, brands have room to improve how they build awareness of their environmental contributions. Asked to recall specific brands which actively support the green movement, 60% of teens 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. Brands that were recognized as environmentally friendly included, in order of preference, Greenworks (by Clorox, but "Greenworks" was mentioned more frequently as an independent brand), Seventh Generation, Toyota, Whole Foods, Kashi, Pepsi, Honda, Method and Coke.

How can brands capitalize on these findings?

  1. Eco-engage consumers by advising them on how to take action in their environment. Knowing this generation is driven by instant gratification, create contests that get them involved and competing towards making their earth a greener place to live (for example: The Green Effect contest by SunChips & National Geographic)

  2. Add to your green branding efforts easy, obtainable and realistic ways to make a difference. (Examples: If every family in the United States recycled their newspaper, 500,000 trees could be saved from being cut down).

  3. Teens obtain their green intelligence in the classroom. Brands can adopt a school and convert it into an eco-educational environment and/or sponsor green field-trips.

  4. Teens live online. Brands need to designate a section of their websites to environmental efforts (tips, events, games, collaborations, news on the brands eco-conscious efforts, etc.).
  • Get involved with branded eco-apps on Facebook (Garnier created an app featuring daily beauty and eco-friendly tips to add to your profile, plus beauty vids and contests).

  • Eco-informative i-Phone apps are a great way to educate and build excitement in going green ("Green Living Guide" - Fox Mobile Distribution's guide to all things green. Have tips sent to you about simple, eco-friendly actions that make a difference, like switching off your phone's energy-intensive vibrate mode.)

Teens are well educated, motivated and aware of all things green -- and 67% are eager to get more involved and make a difference in the environment. Brands now have an incredible opportunity to build and support the transition of this demographic from merely knowing the "why" to understanding and living the "how."

Editor's note: If you'd like to contribute to this newsletter, see our editorial guidelines first and then contact Nina Lentini.
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5 comments about "They Are Almost Green ".
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  1. Celine Vignal from Phone-o-ramic , June 25, 2009 at 12:51 p.m.

    Hi, great article!
    I wanted to add that I support a group of teens that created a non profit called Teens turning green and they are raising funds right now to educate more teens to be greener! Please check them out at
    They are looking at raising $4,000 through June 30th, Thanks!!

  2. Patti Shannon from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital , June 25, 2009 at 2:16 p.m.

    I'm confused. You state 60% of teens could not identify a single specific brand that actively supports the green community, yet in conclusion you write that "Teens are ... aware of all things green". ???

  3. Jonathan Feinstein from imc2 , July 2, 2009 at 5:28 p.m.

    This was a worthwhile study, and I recommend others view the full Millennial results (ages 13-29, not just the teens). I'll share my thoughts on the broader study below, but first about the 13-17 category. This age range is definitely thinking about peer approval first and long-term decisions (like college and career) second. It's interesting to note the words/feelings they most associate with green: responsible, smart, and cool. These all seem to be traits that speak to peer approval.

    Zooming out a bit, these kids may possess more power as passionate, outspoken advocates (even if in short spurts) than in their spending power. Of course, they will grow up to be consumers, at which point it becomes interesting to think about already established brand loyalty. Think back: even if you didn't buy them at the time, were there any products or brands you preferred as a teenager because they positively impacted the way you thought or behaved? Rather than a short-term spending power lens, perhaps the right angle is to think about how to support/engage this age range in a powerful enough way that they'll want to buy from or even work for that brand in the future.

    Beyond those teen-specific thoughts, a few points on the broader survey and age group:

    (1) When comparing "green" vs. "non-green" brands the survey only focuses on cause marketing ("gives 5% to an environmental cause"). Why? There are certainly more impactful and authentic ways to brand a product "green"; for example, for the brand to actually innovate and evolve the materials, production process, packaging, and lifecycle of the product itself.

    (2) The results also seem to show that when the behavior change is clear, Millennials (regardless of age category) are willing to take it. They recycle, turn off lights, reduce water use, and purchase efficient bulbs. Doesn't it stand to reason they would feel an affinity with companies that make and openly proclaim similar behavior changes on a wider scale? And perhaps they are more willing to take on new behaviors in the use, reuse, and recycling of products?

    (3) The results may also imply that Millennials don't make the same connection between their generalized, everyday purchases and tangible, positive environmental impact. I would argue that demonstrates intelligence on the part of these young consumers and a relative failure of brands. Have brands brought to market and then educated/promoted specific and easily-identifiable forms of consumption - local, organic, renewable energy produced, third party-certified? If not, it's understandable that they'd be confused by the mixed messages (some would call "greenwash") they are exposed to while shopping.

  4. Jonathan Feinstein from imc2 , July 6, 2009 at 6:02 p.m.

    Check out this quick video produced by the Alliance for Climate Education: Very relevant and worth considering for corporate support that will impact and influence today's high schoolers.

  5. Susan Von Seggern from SvS PR , July 13, 2009 at 10:05 p.m.

    Sorry to comment late, just catching up on stories I have been meaning to read. I am really glad to see some real #s on teen engagement. When I was doing youth culture consulting in the earlier part of this decade I was on a panel with one of the huger youth market consultants and she was sure from her teen survey respondents that the kids were green, PC and spiritual. As I was representing a niche community of the youth market that was more green, PC and spiritual (the electronic music kids aka ravers) this put me in the odd position of disagreeing with her due to the much much larger numbers of teens into hard rock, gangsta rap and materialistic and sexualized pop music who were presumably not so green, PC and spiritual. It sounds like the methodology of teen polling has come a long way!

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