Climate Change: New Causes Trump Environmentalism With Gen Z

Tomorrow the world will celebrate the 46th anniversary of Earth Day, and as Gen Z looks on at the festivities, they’ll wonder what the big deal is. To teens, Earth Day is a relic from a past era that makes little sense to their lives now. That’s not because they don’t care about the environment—quite the opposite in fact. It’s because they don’t need a special day to remind them to consider their environmental impact.

Previous generations of youth had to be prompted to be eco-friendly: Gen X teens formed environmental clubs in school to encourage their peers to be responsible stewards of the planet, and Gen Y teens campaigned to get their parents and schools to adopt recycling programs and reduce energy consumption. However, Gen Z teens have been eco-conscious their whole lives, instilled with a sense of responsibility for the environment by both their Xer parents who first blazed the trail and their schools that now teach tactics like recycling to young children. For older generations, the phrase “being socially responsible” essentially meant “being green,” however, that’s not the case for teenage Zs who define the idea of social consciousness quite differently because the critical issues of the times have changed. 



Teens recognize that awareness about environmental issues has improved substantially thanks to the work done by older generations, and, at the same time, they see growing issues with civil rights, making the latter issue more pressing in their opinion. In fact, more teens cite issues such as homelessness, poverty, and racism than cite the environment and climate change as the causes they’re most concerned about. While they still do their part for the planet, they see it as imperative that they champion other issues they feel are in dire need of attention. And they’re taking action to back up their interest, as evidenced by the passion with which they have stood up in support of transgender rights and embraced the Black Lives Matter movement. 

All this is not to say that teens aren’t still working on environmental concerns; their endeavor to improve civil rights doesn’t displace being green. To that point, according to the our recent study on politics and social causes, Gen Zs are far more likely than Gen Ys to engage in eco-friendly activities, such as recycling (68% vs. 55%). Eco-consciousness is ingrained in their nature through years of education and training, so it feels like little effort to make a difference in this area.

Like Millennials, teenage Zs feel a personal responsibility to make the world a better place, and they have energy to spare for causes beyond their work for the environment. They see being green is the bare minimum they can do, and they want to do more. The fact that Zs have collectively chosen to dedicate themselves toward improving civil rights is in line with their generational characteristics: they are the most diverse generation in history and also the most open-minded. 

Just as teens expect more of themselves in terms of social responsibility, they also expect more of the brands when it comes to their involvement in causes. They are used to brands touting their environmental efforts so much so that they take it as a given that most (if not all) brands have eco-friendly initiatives. It’s no longer a differentiating factor among brands to be green, just as it’s no longer a matter of distinction for teens themselves to engage in such behaviors.

For a brand to stand out as being truly “socially responsible” as teens define the phrase, they need to get behind the same causes that teens support. While marketers often fear taking a public stand on such complicated issues, the payoff can be significant: our report finds that 73% of teens are more likely to support a brand that supports the causes they care about.

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