Lab 11 – Sustainability
What does sustainability mean to Millennials?
Millennials and sustainability are closely linked. But what does sustainability really mean for Millennials? What values are hidden in the concept, and do they believe that we as consumers can make the world more sustainable? We try to qualify that in the Millennial Lab Vol. 12th
Sustainability is about climate and waste
When Millennials hear the word sustainability, they think primarily of climate, packaging, waste and food waste; followed by the environment, nature and pollution. They believe they can change the world through the way they consume resources. It Is important for them to act correctly.
They consider their own consumption to be very or predominantly sustainable. It’s about buying the right products, but also to a great extent it is also about behaviour. They mention, among other things, that they try to choose products that last longer.
They eat and use up, pass on and recycle. They avoid meat, eat less and waste less. There are clear principles behind their actions, when it comes to both their behaviour and purchasing.
For Millennials, sustainability is about packaging, waste and food waste. Therefore, they believe that producers must be more responsibile by using less packaging and ensuring that it can be recycled. The reason this is so important to them is because they sort their own waste at home, which makes them very much aware of what we are re-using, wasting and burning off.
They consider products by taking a holistic look at the full life cycle of each product, where creation, content, health, packaging and disposal must all be in order. This is why Millennials place greater demands on, and demand more from companies and their products total value chain.
Quote from MLab: “Packaging is the focus of companies now, e.g. Carlsberg.”
When asked 92% said they believe we can change the world through consumption
“If you ask enough for a sustainable alternative, you can push the companies to manufacture it.”
Organic of course
Millennials see organically produced goods as a matter of course. They rate organic as a high quality indicator when they shop. They think there is a strong connection between organic production and good quality. They expect to find an organic option on the shelves, and it is quite natural for them to choose organic products over any others. They even say that a store is lagging behind if it lacks organic products in its range. Organic food is a given for them and their impression is that supermarkets are gradually placing organic products at the forefront of their marketing.
They prefer to go for organic, but also state that the price is of great importance, so organic does not always go in the shopping cart, although organic-goods have become cheaper and are now close in price to non-organic. They also mention that it is important to buy organic because it brings the price down if everyone does. Price is clearly a primary concern among the young and students. As shoppers get older – and especially for parents, being organic is the top priority and they are actively focussed on avoiding products with additives.
Quote from MLab: “Whatever the price I choose organic.”
When asked what is most important when buying food? 67% answer ecology
“I’m not even thinking about it anymore, I buy only natural.”
When asked what do you value most when buying non-food? 75% said no additives
(How much of your daily consummation is organic)
Branded or not?
When it comes to clothing and furniture, design and price are important, but quality and durability is also important. Millennials are aware that the Earth’s resources are limited and therefore must be used responsibly. For them goods need to last and be timeless to be sustainable. They say that lifestyle products are not super-important, but conversely, the statistics say that they also buy brands like Apple, Nike, Adidas, (all of which were top 10 brands at Business Insider 2018 among Millennials).
They are conscious and demanding, but admit that it is difficult to figure out how sustainable products really are when it comes down to it. They prefer products that communicate a strong ecological narrative with which they can identify themselves.
The Millennials we talked to considered that the market for sustainable brands in the fashion industry had to be large. They think that too many companies are “only in it for the money”. They get too much attention and take up too much media space compared to those who genuinely try to produce sustainable products. Among Millennials, there is generally great sympathy for the small idealists who are passionate about making a difference and telling their good story.
“No one can be 100% sustainable, because there are so many suppliers and subcontractors to keep an eye on.”
“It’s hard to buy right. Instead, I buy less.”
Brands with action and story
Millennials know of course the national and European certified labels for organic food such as Ø-mærket, Nøglehullet, Svanemærket, etc. And they actively use them to make shopping decisions. But they also act according to their own standards of sustainability. When it comes to food they consider issues such as food waste, independent production and seasonality. They all know “To good to go” and “Your Local”, both of which are tangible apps that make a real difference and have a good story to tell. These private start-ups are in sharp contrast to the more passive state-run labeling. These apps offer a concrete difference they can act upon. Often the good idea is enough in itself, and they say that they would like to pass-on the story. The fact that they are attracted to private initiatives is probably also linked to lack of confidence in corporations, companies and brands.
For example, they mention that some companies package their own private brands to look officially approved in order to cheat the consumer into believing something is clean and sustainable. They are also a little sceptical about how sustainable the official standards really are? E.G. MSC marked trawler-caught fish is very questionable.
Confidence is low, so it makes sense to support idealistic initiatives that create their own concrete actions that are visible and can spread on social media. Of course, Millennials also cash in on social capital with sustainability.
“People brand themselves a lot as organic or as vegans.”
“Buy a lot in season and go for no additives”
Symbolic actions matters
Millennial or not, it isn’t easy to discern what is the most sustainable option. Therefore it is often the best ideas and stories that make impressions and create awareness. Plastic bags are a good example. Millennials prefer to use nets made from textiles, although it is not rationally a big gain. They even mention that in some places you get a discount if you come with your own coffee cup, a small but noticeable way to make a difference and that gets noticed, the same way they buy bottles that can be used again and again. The symbolic act and the good emotional narrative win.
Sustainable… And having an excuse
Sustainable actions go furthest if they are easy and convenient. Millennials are sustainable, but also capable of forgiving themselves when they buy the flight that really hurts the climate. They are quick to justify their wrong actions by doing other things to compensate. They make their own climate account. As one of them said, “I really want to fly more and more when I see travel advertisements, but it gives me a conscience … but then I bike a lot. Not surprisingly, they were quite agreed that airplanes were okay because the alternative was slow and inconvienient. And if there is something important for Millennials, it is traveling.
If you compromise with sustainability, where mostly?
67% compromise on air travel sustainability
“I don’t have a car so this compensates for whatever else I do.”
“I must have my exotic fruits and they are not organic due to the high price.”
Who bears sustainable responsibility?
According to our Millennials consumers, companies and politicians have an equal responsibility for creating a sustainable world. They are well aware that businesses are being more sustainable just to please the Millennials. But the market is changing fast and companies are also turning their gaze on the Millennial market. According to Nielsen Research, sustainable products now make up almost 25% of the US market. Furthermore, their figures show that the increasing demand for sustainable goods is driven by Millennials.
Millennials are twice as driven by sustainable purchases as Baby-boomers (75% vs. 34%)
Millennials are more willing than Baby-boomers to pay more for a sustainable product (90% vs. 61%)
Millennials drive the demand for companies go after sustainable growth and they expect politicians to push these developments with both legislation, positive influence and knowledge for consumers. Our group of Millennials believe it was important that consumers were better informed in order to make sustainability more attractive. They also want political action to push people into more sustainable consumption, and force companies start taking their role and influence more seriously.
Do you think Climate compensation helps the environment?
The Millennials in our group did not have much sympathy for concepts like climate compensation, which in their opinion is nothing more than an immoral trade in climate and environment. “It’s short term thinking when companies plant a tree and then continue to pollute” as one formulated it. Over half do not believe that climate compensation helps. On the other hand, they have great confidence in the new young generation. They expect them to become even more sustainable. Their logic was that each generation is brought up with a little more responsibility, because there is no other way for us to survive
Who is responsible in making the world more sustainable?
“There is no transparency, what is my imprint, what can I do better?”