How Millennials are Driving the Future of Sustainability

Millenials driving the future of sustainability

Millennials get enough blame for the decline of several industries — real estate, department stores, even cereal, among many others. But the twenty-something generation doesn’t get enough credit for bringing sustainability into the limelight. After all, it might actually be their plant-based eating and ride-sharing ways that the future of our planet depends on.

Reshaping cities, transforming career paths

It’s not just the tough economic times that have caused car ownership to go down among young generations. A Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning survey showed that 64% of millennials prefer walkable cities where they wouldn’t have to own or use a car. Given the chance, young people would walk from their apartment to work and from establishment to establishment over driving, which is one of the highest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. 

In areas where walking is not an option, public transportation and alternative solutions have increased in popularity, like ride-sharing. This presents a greener and more affordable option for people who don’t own cars, not to mention that sharing a vehicle with other people can significantly reduce congestion on roads. One of the two dominant ride-sharing apps, Lyft, has actually taken a more environmentally conscious approach with their carbon offset program. Sustridge also noted that the company has committed to going fully carbon neutral with the added promise to purchase renewable energy to power their headquarters. As millennials continue to support brands with a clear sustainability policy like Lyft, it puts pressure on competitors to follow suit with their green initiatives. 

But it's more than just these services. Fast Company reports that millennials are willing to take a pay cut to work for companies with an agenda for saving the environment. It’s certainly a bigger commitment than ditching cars, but the survey shows that over 70% of millennial employees stated that they were more likely to take a job in a company that gives back to the environment. In contrast, only 17% of baby boomers are willing to go that far. More than one-third of the respondents also said that sustainable initiatives at work also influenced their commitment to their job. 

Changing consumption and communications

When it comes to consuming products, sustainability is still a major consideration for millennials. In fact, Nielsen found that three quarters of the generation will change their purchasing habits in favor of organic and more sustainable products. This is why the sustainability market is expected to rise to $150 billion in two years, while conventional product sales are declining. Furthermore, millennials are reportedly willing to pay premium prices for products that are sourced ethically and responsibly, while baby boomers are more influenced by brand loyalty.

In this regard, millennials’ much-criticized affinity for social media is actually helping spread the word on conscious consumerism. Lifestyle brands use digital marketing as their main way to promote their ideas as well as their products. In fact, a feature by Maryville University shows that there was a 63% year-over-year growth in global mobile traffic in 2016, with mobile video making up 60% of this traffic. This is a testament to how extensive social media’s reach is to people all over the world, and it’s only expected to grow bigger. Updates from Cisco's Visual Networking Index forecast that roughly 79% of the world's mobile traffic will be in video form by the year 2022, a 20% growth rate from 2017.

There’s no doubt that young people put a lot of stock on what they see on social media, which sustainability advocates can take advantage of in promoting the cause. One influencer who is doing exactly that is Lauren Singer, the woman behind the account Trash is for Tossers. A graduate of environmental studies, Singer follows a zero-waste lifestyle. She also provides practical tips on her Instagram that other people interested in pursuing the same lifestyle can follow. The hope is that influencers like her will only continue to grow and promote sustainability even further in the coming years.

Given that the millennial population is expected to outnumber baby boomers this year, the purchasing habits and lifestyle choices of this particular generation are forcing corporations to reconsider their current policies and long-held practices. The values that the generation espouses are also contributing to the growth of ethical and sustainable brands — a trend that we definitely hope will stick around.

Written exclusively for

By Donna Steele