Millennials and Gen Z’s differ in a surprising number of ways, but some of the most important differences for brands come from how they behave as buyers.
Gen Zs aren't waiting for others to stop climate change. They're taking the initiative right this moment — and some of their favorite brands are following suit.
Brushing aside the occasional stinging red ant, Topher White rappels his way up a tree in the Brazilian Amazon, a bioacoustic monitoring device cradled in one hand. Once secured safely under the forest canopy, the device will begin “listening” to the surrounding rainforest for telltale signs of illegal logging operations — the buzz of chainsaws or the rumble of clandestine lumber-truck convoys — reporting these sounds in real time to people on the ground who can respond immediately and intervene.
As Founder and CEO of Rainforest Connection (RFCx), “a tech-social enterprise” dedicated to stopping illegal logging and poaching of rainforests in real time, Topher’s initiative has drawn the interest of companies far and wide, including Google. Furthermore, it’s inspired Gen Z students to get involved. Indeed, a program is now underway in Los Angeles schools where hundreds of Gen Z students build the actual monitoring devices (called “Forest Guardians”) which Rainforest Connection uses to detect illegal deforestation in real time.
According to a comprehensive study by Project Drawdown, illegal deforestation accounts for anywhere between 10 - 15 percent of the planet’s carbon emissions. Further research has proven that greater concentrations of carbon in the atmosphere are largely responsible for the collapse of vital ecosystems, the desertification of farmland and the rise of global sea-levels.
Gen Z isn’t taking these threats lightly. According to a 2016 global study by Masdar, Gen Z respondents ranked climate change as the greatest challenge “in the next decade” — greater than the economy, terrorism, unemployment or poverty. Gen Zers recognize it as a problem that impacts them all, no matter where on the planet they happen to live.
Moreover, they’re ready to take action: a 2017 survey by the Giving Report finds 26 percent of older Gen Zers “already volunteer on a regular basis.” While new startups form a large component of Gen Z’s climate activism, there’s also growing awareness among larger, long-established, Z-focused brands of the need to encourage, cultivate, support and finance Gen Z’s fierce stance on the environment.
Rainforests are hardly the only arena where young Gen Z activists are pushing back against environmental degradation. Case in point: The Ocean Clean Up — another tech-social enterprise whose (seemingly endless) mission is to clean Earth’s oceans of plastic — was founded in 2013 by an 18-year-old from the Netherlands.
Cleaning up Earth’s oceans is also resonating message with Gen Z consumers — and eco-conscious, Gen Z-focused retail brands are paying close attention. Last year saw Everlane, a popular Gen Z apparel company, sponsor an initiative to clean up 20,000 pounds of plastic from beaches across the United States.
Other brands like Patagonia are making a direct appeal to Gen Z’s desire for instant action on climate change as well. The popular outdoor apparel company recently developed Patagonia Action Works, a self-described “dating site” that connects individuals with immediate grassroots opportunities for environmental stewardship. Browsing the site lets young activists easily pinpoint local internships and volunteer positions they can sign up for, environmental causes they can contribute money towards and online ecological petitions they can sign.
The message is growing clear for companies across different verticals: It pays to put money where your mouth is when it comes to Gen Z's passion for environmentalism. Some brands have already begun to realize that. Others are sure to follow suit.
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