We’ve heard it over and over: people under 30 are more eco-conscious than their parents and millennials are more concerned about their environmental impact than previous generations.
At first glance, this makes sense: Gen Y is connected and aware in ways Baby Boomers never were. They know about industrial pollution and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. They shop at Whole Foods, wear organic clothing and shun bottled water. But does all that really translate into being better stewards of the planet?
Recent research shows that, despite the belief that the Millennial generation is particularly passionate about environmental issues, there are few, if any, differences in their level of concern about the environment or the importance they place on responsible behavior versus the Boomer generation. In fact, older folks are actually outperforming youngsters when it comes to some obvious eco-friendly behaviors.
The DDB Life Style Study, the nation’s longest running and largest longitudinal study of attitudes and behaviors, surveyed 6,429 adult respondents during the month of January 2013. Here are the results of the environmentally-focused questions:
Boomers are significantly more likely than Millennials to:
- Say they make a strong effort to recycle everything they possibly can (66% vs. 53%)
- Say they make a strong effort to separate the recyclables from the rest of the trash (64% vs. 53%)
- Say they make a strong effort to use reusable grocery bags as much as possible (54% vs. 46%)
Millennials are significantly more likely than Boomers to:
- Say they use a refillable water bottle when they drink water outside of the home (54% vs. 46%)
- Say they own a hybrid car (8% vs. 4%) or electric car (7% vs. 1%).
The results are an interesting departure from what we might otherwise expect. Of course, these few questions can’t be expected to capture the full scope of environmental behaviors and attitudes, which extend far beyond recycling, but these are some of the most basic actions.
Unraveling the causes of this split in behavior is far more difficult. Given that Boomers grew up in a time when people treated belongings with more respect, reused and repaired everything they could, and understood how valuable even scrap materials could be, it makes sense that they would be so committed to recycling.
Millennials on the other hand, have grown up with a Big Box Store mentality that places little value on making or reusing. They’ve had no war that asked them to recycle scrap metal to support the troops. They’ve been surrounded with copious amounts of internet-connected technology that make reading, learning, and in some ways, leaving the house obsolete. It’s no wonder then that their earth friendly behaviors revolve around energy-efficient devices that take care of the leg work. All they have to do is whip out a credit card.
But let’s give credit where it’s due: Millennials have been shown to be far more willing to experiment with collaborative consumption and participate in the sharing economy, whether it’s staying with Airbnb or car pooling across the country.
Thanks in part to the sharing economy’s direct relationship with mobile technology, Gen Y is far more willing to use car sharing instead of owning a car, to participate in a co-op instead of shopping at Wal-Mart, or to work in a coworking space rather than shell out for their own office: All environmentally-friendly behaviors in their own right and part of a long-overdue shift in priorities from consumption to sharing.
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