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Posted on Jul 1, 2015

Are Millennials Environmentally Friendly?

millennials and the environmentMillennials (also known as Generation Y) are perhaps the most-studied generation — surpassing even Baby Boomers — and it’s no surprise given their numbers and growing importance in the global scheme of things. They’re a generation that is simultaneously described as selfish, vain, unmotivated, and lazy, as well as hardworking, idealistic, and focused on social change and environmental sustainability.

Are Millennials really the most environmentally friendly generation? What is their concept of sustainability? Let’s examine the facts:

Millennials will favor companies that show a demonstrated commitment to sustainability and social improvement. In fact, a whopping 81 percent expect companies to show their commitment to corporate responsibility. All other things being equal, they will choose a brand that demonstrates good corporate citizenship over one that makes no claims. In some cases, they’re even willing to pay a premium if they deem the brand worthy.

It’s not just which brands they buy, either: members of Generation Y decide where to shop based on a company’s commitment to social and environmental issues. A demonstrated commitment to these issues increases brand trust and makes consumers more likely to buy products.

On the other hand, 45 percent of millennials are likely to refuse to buy a company’s products if they find out it is not involved in social or environmental issues.

The majority of Millennials see themselves as global citizens who have a responsibility to make the world better. About 70 percent of millennials have purchased a product because it supports a cause. Furthermore, 24 percent believe that they can make a difference in the world by buying sustainable products and frequenting local and small businesses. This is a generation that truly believes that it can influence the world with the power of the wallet (or credit card).

Millennials are 3 times more likely to apply for a job at a company because of its efforts for social or environmental causes. In addition, a Deloitte survey found that they believe that the success of a company should not be measured solely by financials, but also by whether it somehow improves the world.

Millennials recycle less than Baby Boomers. This is perhaps the biggest argument against Generation Y and its commitment to environmentalism. A 2013 Eco Pulse survey by Shelton GRP found that only 33 percent of American Millennials always recycle materials such as aluminum, plastic, newspaper, and cardboard, compared with 51 percent of all American adults.

In addition, Generation Y fell behind the general population on other environmental issues too:

  • Drinking water from reusable containers (40 percent vs 43 percent)
  • Minimize water usage during daily tasks (40 percent vs 49 percent)
  • Always unplugging electronics or turning off power strips (28 percent vs 33 percent)

Despite that, Millennials outdo the average American population in major lifestyle-related environmental/sustainability issues:

  • They’re more likely to grow their own food (21 percent vs. 17 percent).
  • They’re more likely to use a borrowing/sharing service than buy a major product (9 percent vs 5 percent).
  • They’re more likely to install a system for solar, geothermal or wind energy (8 percent vs. 4 percent).
  • They’re more likely to make all-natural cleaning products (16 percent vs. 13 percent).

Millennials might not label themselves environmentalists, but they feel strongly on environmental policy. Adding support to the notion that Generation Y cares more about bigger environmental issues is a 2011 Pew Research survey that revealed Millennials are generally more supportive of stricter environmental regulation. They’re also more likely to approve of green energy initiatives and economic incentives for sustainability.

Millennials want to be well-informed about purchases, both big and small. Personal recommendations are incredibly powerful to this generation, and social media makes it even easier for them to share their thoughts and get opinions. The American Lifestyles 2015 report found that 70 percent of people read online reviews before making a product purchase, and that of those people, the overwhelming majority (81 percent) were millennials. Millennials are also more likely to check user-generated review sites than independent authority sites. And they’re twice as likely to check packaging to ensure that a product is sustainable or recyclable, too.

So is Generation Y really the most environmentally friendly generation? The research gives a slightly conflicting picture, but a few things are clear. One, millennials want more accountability from businesses, and they will exercise the power of their wallets on that basis. They also like to be highly educated about their purchases.Furthermore, even if they’re not always as good about recycling and other day-to-day eco-friendliness as other generation, millennials are more likely than the general population to commit to big lifestyle-related sustainability.