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Millennials* have been the debate of researchers and marketers alike for some time. Are they a generation guilty of self-entitlement and technology-addiction? Or are they an influential generation making waves and demanding sustainable change? How are they affected by the world in which they have grown up?

Setting the Scene

Millennials make up around 30% of the world’s population and are arguably the most concerned generation when it comes to environmental sustainability and social issues.

Millennials are the first generation to have grown up in a world where “climate change is part of the daily international dialogue”. Whilst every generation has certainly had their risks and threats, millennials have been forced to face the realities of extreme weather patterns, sea level rises, rapidly increasing GMO agriculture and species extinction (among others).

This reality has created a generation of people who desire sustainability in mainstream culture. A generation where many feel as though they have no choice but to be actively engaged to drive change.

A recent study showed that 87% of millennials “believe that companies should address urgent social and environmental issues.” Not afraid of demanding what they want, more economically privileged millennials often take to spending more to buy better or less harmful products (despite being a low-earning generation in comparison to the baby-boomers.) Others go as far as to boycott brands or consumerist days like Black Friday.

Most millennials love to express themselves on social media and many use this tool in the hope to drive brands to make more transparent, ethical and sustainable decisions. To some degree, it is working. Many bigger companies are taking to satisfying their millennial consumer through greener actions and green marketing, whilst many millennials themselves now own their own businesses or have a seat in the boardroom.

The Role of Technology

Growing up around and with technology has allowed millennials to have access to almost any information at the press of a button. This has made the millennial generation far more knowledgeable and aware than their predecessors.

Using the internet to learn, many millennials have a better understanding of complex issues such as global warming and climate change. They are quick to discover when companies are not upholding the standard of sustainability and ethics.

Social media has also played a role in making millennials more socially conscious and allowing them to realize the power of their voice. However, it has also made it easier to consider oneself an “activist”.

The term “Slacktivism” is defined as “the practice of supporting a political or social cause by means such as social media or online petitions, characterized as involving very little effort or commitment.”

Many millennials have been criticized for liking or sharing a socially or environmentally conscious post or article and then sitting back and feeling as though they have contributed to society. Others believe that slacktivism is the springboard for real activism on the ground and that a general growing awareness contributes to a broader change.

There are many examples of movements which have been carried successfully by social media, including the Arab Spring, #BlackLivesMatter, #LoveWins, #MeToo, and the People’s Climate March.

A Changing Way of Life

It is clear that “Millennials feel they have more at stake than any other previous generation when it comes to matters of health and the environment.” For many millennials, this means making big lifestyle changes, whether it be to seek more purpose in their chosen careers, to conserve more resources or to be kinder to their own bodies and the planet.

One study found that there is a gap between the actions of millennials and their beliefs and desires for environmental change. This could also be due to a growing despondency that the changes that need to be made at the policy level are not happening.

Some millennials are so concerned for the future that they are considering not having children of their own. Considering that humans are hard-wired to procreate, this is creating strong cognitive dissonance amongst those in this predicament and is creating more interest in the system of adoption.

According to a recent report written for the New York Times: “there is a sense of being saddled with painful ethical questions that previous generations did not have to confront. Some worry about the quality of life children born today will have. Others are acutely aware that having a child is one of the costliest actions they can take environmentally.”

Whether or not millennials are the most influential generation driving change or not, two things are certain:

  1. Millennials and the upcoming post-millennial generation have no choice but to face the realities of climate change and the need for sustainable development and change and
  2. Thanks to the internet and social media, these generations have the ability to connect and mobilize on a mass level.

It is possible that thanks to these two factors, the change the world so desperately needs could be actualized. As journalist Bill Mckibben writes “the possibility of swift change lies in people coming together in movements large enough to shift the Zeitgeist.”

*Millennials are those born between 1981 and 2000.


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Espinosa, Nick. "The Internet And The Next Generation Of Activism". Forbes.Com, 2018,
"Going Viral: What Social Media Activists Need To Know". The Conversation, 2018,
Gpi.Org, 2014,
McKibben, Bill, and Bill McKibben. "How Extreme Weather Is Shrinking The Planet". The New Yorker, 2018,
"Millennials, Gen Z, And The Future Of Sustainability | Blog | BSR". Bsr.Org, 2018,
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