How Will Gen Z Be Key To Future Sustainability Practices For Businesses?

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Could generation Z could teach older age groups a thing or two about changing their behaviour for the greater good? Especially when it comes to protecting our planet.

Who are Gen Z?

Generation Z – or Gen Z – are those who were born between the mid-to-late 90s and the early noughties.

This generation succeeded Millennials and preceded Generation Alpha.

As well as being the first to have grown up with access to the internet and portable digital technology, this generation has been significantly affected by the Covid pandemic.

As we returned to what was dubbed “the new normal” following a series of lockdowns, social restrictions and mass vaccinations, Gen Z appears to have focused efforts on saving the planet.

And Gen Z appears to be at the driving seat of the sustainability revolution.

Does Gen Z really care more about the environment?

According to recent research by First Insight, a digital product testing and decision-making platform, 62% of Gen Z shoppers prefer sustainable brands – and 73% are willing to pay more for sustainable products.

They are also more likely to make spending decisions based on personal, social and environmental values and principles.

As the first generation of “digital natives”, Gen Z cares more about sustainable buying decisions than brand names.

According to a survey by Bupa, this has been driven by young people’s wider concerns about our impact on the environment, with 63% of Gen Z and millennial respondents reporting they are feeling the burden of climate change, compared to only 37% of Gen X and 28% of baby boomers.

Read more: Equipping the new generation with green skills

Does Gen Z hold brands accountable?

Another survey by social impact consultancy DoSomething reported that “If [brands] are not authentic, Gen Z will be the first to raise a red flag.”

As their consumer choices make clear, Gen Z expects businesses to prioritise sustainability. With most members of Gen Z now in their mid-20s, they are a key target for businesses in a competitive market.

But another danger for businesses is that Gen Z are also inspiring other age groups to become more responsible shoppers.

A survey conducted by Deloitte found that 39% of adults reduced the number of new goods they bought between 2020-2021 as a result of the values of Gen Z and millennials.

The costs for businesses of ignoring their demands for change are reputational damage – which can be quickly spread online – and a slump in profits.

If they want to remain competitive in today’s world, they need to listen.

How are brands responding?

The modern mantra of do less, spend less and waste less is not exactly music to the ears of businesses, whose main goal is to make profits.

But with Gen Z in the driving seat, they now have the power to make or break a business.

By embracing Gen Z and their demands, businesses can find that they are better placed to meet the challenges of limited resources, the costs of materials and other resources and government legislation relating to the environment.

Businesses are under pressure to change – and Gen Z can help them to respond.

#1. Sustainability initiatives

In today’s global economy, businesses must take sustainability seriously.

Climate change is already having a real impact on costs and resources, as well as driving consumer behaviour towards products and services with a lower carbon footprint.

In order to meet current challenges and to futureproof themselves, every business should have sustainability at the heart of its plans.

By hiring dedicated staff, such as sustainability managers, to drive science-based sustainability initiatives, businesses can identify where they’re going wring in terms of environmental impact and get themselves on the road to getting it right.

Investing in this will not only improve a business’s reputation in the eyes of Gen Z – it will also make it more efficient and thus increase profitability.

#2. Hiring Gen Z workers

Now that Gen Z are in their 20s, they have also entered the job market.

And what better way to meet their demands as consumers than to employ them?

Gen Z also have powerful skills when it comes to technology and communication – so they may well be what your business has been lacking.

#3. Training

Letting Gen Z employees inspire the actions of others towards sustainability will likely be helpful in achieving buy-in for sustainability initiatives among all stakeholders.

But investing in training ensures that your staff across the organisation have access to knowledge and green skills needed to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.

*At TSW, we offer a wide range of IEMA courses at different levels and durations to help support your business’s sustainability initiatives and help you hit those emissions targets.

#4. Communication

As “digital natives”, Gen Z consumers have access to instant ways of communicating their likes or dislikes to huge audiences.

This means that their research or experience of your products or services can be communicated easily to your other customers, competitors and government.

If a business is not pulling its weight when it comes to sustainability, or is accused of greenwashing or greenhushing, it will likely be found out and face public scrutiny.

By harnessing the communications skills of Gen Z, through using influencers in your marketing strategies or by employing them in your communications teams, you can better tailor your messaging to this group and gain a better understanding of what needs to be done to meet their demands.

Which brands are Gen Z favourites?

Perhaps the industry that has been most influenced by Gen Z is the fashion industry.

Although fast fashion brands such as Zara are still hugely popular, the consumer choices of Gen Z have driven demand for sustainable, second-hand fashion.

This has led to the creation of brands such as Vestiaire Collective, which allows users to buy and sell luxury items second-hand, via their website and app.

Which have fallen foul of Gen Z scrutiny?

H&M’s Conscious Collection featured clothes made from organic cotton and recycled polyester.

But its overall business practices have been criticised as not sustainable, such as overproducing clothes leading to excess waste.

This attempt to pull the wool over Gen Z’s eyes was not well-received.

A report by Quartz exposed the company as greenwashing, forcing the company to remove their environmental scorecards, which had previously been used to inform customers about the sustainability credentials of each product in the collection.

Matthew Channell
Matthew Channell
Matthew is TSW Training’s Commercial Director. He writes about performance focussed learning, leadership, and management approaches that have real-world, sustainable impact.
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