Hey! Millennial! What’s your deal?

by Sep 28, 2017

Me: Hey! Millennial!


Me: Millennial! I’m talking to you!


Me: Answer me, Millennial!

Daniel: Why are our desks so close?

I like to think that Daniel, our intern, finds it charming when I annoy him like this. It’s ironic that, technically, I am ALSO a Millennial. But we couldn’t be more different, and that’s one of the biggest challenges companies face when approaching Millennials.

There are 29 million of us, and we represent a wide variety of life stages, backgrounds and socioeconomic situations. For instance, Daniel is a 21-year-old college intern. I’m a working mom in my late 30’s. And yet … we both have to represent the same generation out in the world. Think about it: my reputation is tied to a group of college kids who don’t even know who [insert name of some washed-up 80s band] is.

As I was working on our new Millennial Pulse report, I used Daniel as a sounding board. Aside from just annoying him, I also tried to pick his brain about these issues. And as it turns out, although we are both Millennials (and both unassailably cool in our own ways), we see things VERY differently.

Chapter One: Daniel Doesn’t Want to See Pictures of Your Kid

Me: Hey, Millennial, look at this picture of my daughter. Isn’t she the cutest thing you’ve ever seen? Isn’t she??

Daniel: I think you develop a gene as you age that makes you think kids are cute. I don’t have that yet.

Me: *middle-aged gasp*

Daniel: Yeah, she’s cute. I just don’t know how I feel about having kids.

Me: Why not? Look how cute!!

Daniel: I don’t know. I’m just not into the idea of having kids when there are so many kids already who need adopting. Besides, I’m not really sure what kind of future my kid would have right now. With things like climate change making the future so uncertain, I just think it’s a little irresponsible.

Me: … Good point. I guess in my mind, we’ve actually made progress in that area. I distinctly remember when almost no one recognized the impact humans were having on the planet. So I have this sense that things are getting better … or that they will at least start getting better soon.

Daniel: But is “better” enough?

Me: … look at her blond curly hair!!

Daniel: Why are our desks so close?

The data from Millennial Pulse:

Millennials believe their future (and the future of their children) is in trouble. Climate change is an especially scary issue for Millennials. When asked to fill in the statement, “I’m concerned about how climate change will impact …”

  • 76% say “my quality of life”
  • 82% of those who have children say “my children’s quality of life”

Additionally, NPR reports:

By midcentury, possibly before, the average global temperature is projected to rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius, the point scientists and world leaders agree would trigger cataclysmic consequences.

The world is expected to add several billion people in the next few decades, each one producing more emissions.

Chapter Two: The Recycling Song

Me: Hey, Millennial! Do you guys recycle at your apartment? I’m kind of saying in this report that Millennials aren’t doing that stuff as much.

Daniel: [deep sigh] Okay, so they needed more parking at the apartment, and they took away the recycle bins to make room for it. I don’t really have time to be running back and forth to the recycle center. I’m either working or in class or studying. I feel guilty just taking the time to make dinner because there are others things I need to do. I just don’t have enough time.

Me: But … but … okay, here, let me sing you “The Recycle Song” we learned at Tremont Camp in sixth grade.

Daniel: Please don’t.

Me: [sings … here are the lyrics because you know you want them]

Daniel: [deep sigh] Why are our desks so close?

The data from Millennial Pulse:

Millennials know they can’t fix climate change alone. Our previous studies have shown that Millennials are significantly less likely to be engaged in easy sustainable behaviors than all other age cohorts.

  • 34% of Millennials recycle newspapers, cardboard, aluminum cans, plastic bottles, etc. (vs. 52% overall)
  • 37% of Millennials bring own bag(s) when shopping (vs. 50% overall)
  • 33% of Millennials adjust thermostat settings to save energy (vs. 54% overall)
  • Millennials are also 7% less likely to drink water from reusable containers instead of disposable plastic bottles.

Chapter Three: Virginia Comes to Terms with Her Age

Me: Hey, Millennial! I think the coolest thing we’re finding in here is that Millennials are sort of crowdsourcing companies in order to make a bigger difference in sustainability. Do you do that?

Daniel: I think if I was in a different life stage, then I definitely would. Right now, I just don’t have the money to do that. College is expensive, so I have to really think about spending a lot of money if it isn’t necessary. I’m definitely aware of which companies are making a positive impact, though. Just because I can’t do anything about it right now doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention. I know who I would or wouldn’t support if I had the money. I’ll put more of my money toward that kind of thing as I get older.

Me: It’s funny, I hadn’t thought about it, but I totally do this. When I was your age I was in the same position you are, but now that I have a little more to spend, I really do pay attention to where I spend it. I don’t just buy shoes, I buy Toms shoes. That kind of thing.

Daniel: I guess that’s one benefit of being so old.

Me: Why are our desks so close?

The data from Millennial Pulse:

A company’s approach to sustainability has a big impact on whether Millennials choose to purchase from that company.

  • 77% say a company’s social and/or business practices impact their purchase decisions.
  • 70% say a company’s environmental practices impact their purchase decisions.

43% of our Millennials could name a brand they trust when it comes to their environmental and social/business practices. And when Millennials trust a brand’s practices, 90% buy from that brand and 95% recommend their products to other people.

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About the Author

Virginia Vowell

Virginia designs, manages and analyzes primary and secondary research. Combining extensive research experience, sensitivity to client objectives and a passion for sustainability, she teases out the story of what the research means and provides actionable recommendations to clients. Before bringing her expertise to Shelton Group, she spent 12 years in a research agency environment. She also brings theater expertise – she recently starred in a regional theater production of Mame.


  1. Kathi

    One of the best presentations of Shelton data I’ve seen. Nice job!

  2. Dale Sherman

    A very creative way to chunk the data and present it. I just had to read all the way through it.

  3. Mark

    So roughly 3/4 of Millennials say that company’s approach to sustainability has a big impact on whether they choose to purchase from that company, yet as a whole they are less likely to take personal responsibility for their own sustainability actions (e.g., recycling, bringing their own shopping bags, adjusting thermostat settings or drinking water from reusable containers). Appears to me there is a disjoint here between what they say and what they actually do. In other words, sustainability is a good thing if someone else is taking the lead on it.

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