Consumer research snapshot: Gen Z, millennials check up on brands’ sustainability practices before buying

Gen Z consumers in the U.S. are more likely to care about environmental issues than their international peers, a likely sign of global “crisis fatigue.”
Elizabeth Christenson
Editor, Retail Leader
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According to a survey conducted among U.S. consumers in April 2022, 23% of Gen Z (for this study those born 1997-2013) and 19% of millennial (those born 1981-1996) respondents said they "very often" looked for information about a brand's sustainability practices when making purchase decisions, according to Stifel

Conversely, 23% of Gen X (those born 1965-1980) respondents said they “never or almost never” looked for information regarding a brand's sustainability practices when deciding to purchase a product. Another 34% of Gen X respondents said they “not that often” looked for brand’s sustainability information. 

That’s not to say Gen X doesn’t care about sustainability, as 10% of Gen X respondents said they very often look and 33% said they “somewhat often” look for sustainability information from brands when deciding whether to buy a product from that brand. Stifel’s survey data just shows the majority of Gen Z and millennials care to look for a brand’s sustainability practices when deciding what to purchase, while that is not the case for Gen X.

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When comparing Stifel’s 2022 data to its survey results from 2021, millennials who “at least somewhat often” said they looked for brand’s sustainability information was down 6%. As Retail Leader Pro previously reported, GWI data shows that year-over-year, the number of millennials who advocate based on behalf of the environment has dropped 18% and the number who support environmental causes has dropped 9%. Additionally, millennials who don’t buy any organic products — often viewed as more sustainable — is up 16%. Instead, during this period of economic uncertainty, millennials are focused on money-saving behaviors with the number buying seasonal produce to save money up 12% year-on-year, GWI reports.

According to GWI, the number of Gen Z who believe the environment will get worse has grown 50% since the second quarter of 2020, which could explain their need for brands’ sustainability practices when deciding what to buy. However, this is something of a U.S.-specific trend, with Gen Z worldwide generally growing less interested in environmental issues year-on-year. These are potential signs that “crisis fatigue” is setting in, GWI reported. That means that while it’s imperative for brands to think about ways they can be eco-friendly — more than three in 10 U.S. Gen Z say they should — it’s also worth addressing their messaging. For example, avoiding a “doomerism” approach to keep Gen Z from feeling hopeless about the future would resonate with the demographic better, GWI recommended.