• Generation Z cares more about sustainable buying decisions than brand names, a new survey shows.
  • This first generation of “digital natives” is inspiring other age groups to act more sustainably.
  • The main reasons for consumers not adopting a more eco-friendly lifestyle are a lack of interest because they think it’s too costly or insufficient information.

Generation Z shows the most concern for the planet’s well-being and influences others to make sustainability-first buying decisions, according to new research.

GenZ are people born between the nineties and the noughties – roughly spanning 1995 to 2010 – and three-quarters of them prefer to buy sustainably rather than to go for brand names. That’s according to respondents in a survey of US consumer attitudes on sustainable shopping by First Insight and the Baker Retailing Center at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

How do you rate the importance of these factors when making a purchase?
75% of Gen Zs think sustainable purchases are more important than brand names.
Image: First Insight

Labelled the first “digital natives” by McKinsey, but also known as the TikTok generation, most members of Gen Z are now in their mid-20s, are generally tech-savvy and are accustomed to making informed purchasing decisions.

As champions of sustainable consumer practices, Generation Z’s views also influence other age groups to change their buying behaviour.

Prefer to buy from sustainable brands.
Gen Z’s views on sustainability influence other generations’ buying decisions.
Image: First Insight

Across the generational divide, consumers are prepared to spend more on sustainable products now than two years ago, comparisons with data from an earlier survey show.

Spending on sustainable brands and products by Generation X – those born between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s – has increased by 24% since 2019. And the behaviour of other groups has followed a similar trend.

Gen Z’s influence has led to it being labelled “the most disruptive generation ever” by the Bank of America, a CNBC article reports.

Choosing a sustainable lifestyle

In our evermore connected world, consumer awareness is on the rise - including what, how and where we consume. And change is happening.

In the last 12 months which of the following have you personally done, specifically in an effort to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle.
Three-fifths of consumers surveyed in the UK have reduced their usage of single-use plastics.
Image: Deloitte

Saying no to single-use plastics is the most common sustainable lifestyle change among UK consumers, a 2021 survey by Deloitte shows. More than 60% have reduced their use of throwaway plastics.

Almost two-fifths of those surveyed have reduced the number of flights they take, and the same proportion said they are buying fewer new goods.

Circular economy

What is a circular economy?

The global population is expected to reach close to 9 billion people by 2030 – inclusive of 3 billion new middle-class consumers.This places unprecedented pressure on natural resources to meet future consumer demand.

A circular economy is an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design. It replaces the end-of-life concept with restoration, shifts towards the use of renewable energy, eliminates the use of toxic chemicals and aims for the elimination of waste through the superior design of materials, products, systems and business models.

Nothing that is made in a circular economy becomes waste, moving away from our current linear ‘take-make-dispose’ economy. The circular economy’s potential for innovation, job creation and economic development is huge: estimates indicate a trillion-dollar opportunity.

The World Economic Forum has collaborated with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for a number of years to accelerate the Circular Economy transition through Project MainStream - a CEO-led initiative that helps to scale business driven circular economy innovations.

Join our project, part of the World Economic Forum’s Shaping the Future of Environment and Natural Resource Security System Initiative, by contacting us to become a member or partner.

Just over a third of respondents said they choose brands demonstrating environmentally sustainable practices or values, while 28% have stopped buying from brands with poor ethical or sustainability values.

Obstacles to sustainability

So what’s preventing more people from switching to more sustainable lifestyles?

The main reason for not embracing positive change – given by two-fifths of UK respondents – is a lack of interest, followed by a segment of 16% who said it was too costly, and a further 15% who want more information before considering lifestyle changes.

The top 2 reasons why consumers haven't adopted a more sustainable lifestyle.
Lack of interest is the main reason people don’t adopt a more sustainable lifestyle.
Image: Deloitte

As the climate crisis continues to impact our lives, awareness of the need to act sustainably is growing among consumers of all ages, albeit at different rates. Brands and retailers who respond to consumer demand to think and act more sustainably will be better placed to succeed in an increasingly uncertain future.