Like many folks, I worry about the future for our kids. As I read gloomy predictions for our world in the coming years, I wonder what life will be like for them. What problems will they solve? What problems will they create? But I’m an optimist, and I have great hope for the Millennial generation, and not just in terms of sustainability.
Millennials now range in age up to the early 30s, but today I thought I’d take a look at the youngest of that generation, those kids aged 0-15 in 2011, who represent 57.5 million children in the U.S. These kids, dubbed Generation We by trendwatching service Iconoculture, wield great spending power and familial influence. Children aged 8-12 reportedly have $43 billion in their wallets and parents who include them in purchase decisions as collaborators.
Here’s the good news: The imagination of Generation We has been captured by the green movement. For some, it’s come from participating in family activities. They’ve grown up recycling, gardening, or turning off the water while they brush their teeth. For others, it’s been the result of witnessing environmental disasters from Hurricane Katrina to the BP oil spill. But for all of them, sustainability is a shared value and they have a keen understanding of the deep connection between personal well-being and planetary health.
And they’re talking about it at home – in some cases, pushing their parents to “green up” their lives even more. In this year’s Eco Pulse study, we once again saw the incredible sway that children hold in American households. 84% of respondents with children reported that their children have initiated conversations about environmental issues. The numbers were up across multiple issues, ranging from recycling to water conservation, indoor air quality to climate change. 71% of parents who’d had discussion with their children reported that these conversations resulted in purchasing and behavior changes. In other words, Generation We is using their collaborative role to influence family purchases of green products and their allowances to make their own green purchases.
But it’s more than that. Growing up in the Great Recession is teaching Generation We about financial responsibility, about the importance of saving money, and they’re developing conservative financial attitudes and behaviors. That means they may begin to place more emphasis on the reduce part of the reduce, reuse, recycle equation. They’re going to be looking for products that not only offer good value, but that reflect their values as well.
They’re learning that experiences, both online and in real life, can be just as or more rewarding than tangible goods. Hours of online gaming are teaching them real-world problem-solving skills, collaboration, and resiliency. In their minds, there is no distinction between work and fun, gaming and real-life problem solving. As they age, this unique skill set, honed in front of a pulsating screen, will qualify them to boldly take on the pressing challenges of their day and have fun doing it.
They’re a generation with a truly global outlook. For sustainability to make serious inroads, this mindset is critical. They understand that what we do in the US impacts the rest of the world – and vice versa. They are attuned to multicultural influences and incorporate them into their daily lives. They live in an uber-connected world, and don’t consider sushi exotic food.
For sustainability marketers, the implications are clear. Don’t ignore the kids – they’re cool. (Or do they still use that word?) They want to help you. They are helping you. Acknowledge them. Get them engaged and get them talking. Get them having fun. And you’ll likely see some nice things happening. When you think about it, maybe it’s the parents who need some help.