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The Greenest Generation: Baby Boomers or Millennials?

Mike Hower
| Thursday April 25th, 2013 | 2 Comments
Those hailing from the Baby Boomer generation are significantly more likely than Millennials to recycle.

Those hailing from the Baby Boomer generation are significantly more likely than Millennials to recycle.

When it comes to being environmentally friendly, those born between the early 1980s to early 2000s, otherwise known as Millennials, are talking a lot of talk without walking much of a walk, according to a recent study by DDB Worldwide.

Contrary to what many (especially young people) might think, those hailing from the Baby Boomer generation – their parents– are significantly more likely than Millennials to recycle. Some 66 percent of Boomers surveyed said they make an effort to recycle everything they possibly can, while only 53 percent of Millennials claimed to do so. Boomers also beat Millennials on separating the recyclables from the rest of the trash and reusing grocery bags.

While Boomers had the younger generation beat on recycling, more Millennials said they would “pay more for an environmentally-safe version of a product” (46 percent) than did Boomers (41 percent). Some 7 percent of Millennials also reported owning an electric car, compared with just 1 percent of Boomers.

But there is a lot more to “being green” than recycling and consumerism – what about overall environmental footprints?

In a 2011 study, demographer Emilio Zagheni reviewed nine energy-intensive categories of activity, including electricity, gasoline use and air travel, and found that as people age, they are responsible for more carbon dioxide emissions. This is due to the fact that they drive more and use more electricity.

According to the study, as middle-aged people generally have higher incomes, they are more likely to take long-distance vacations, which means more energy expended and increased carbon footprints. Once people hit age 65, their carbon footprints tend to decrease, presumably due to more inactivity.

While Millennials may not be the greenest at home, their politics overwhelming lean in favor of sustainability. A 2011 Pew Research poll found that 71 percent of Millennials believe the U.S. energy policy should focus on developing alternative energy sources such as wind, solar and hydrogen technology.

Interestingly, the poll also found that most Millennials prefer to tackle global warming and other sustainability issues through individual initiative and grassroots action rather than a heavy-handed, top-down bureaucratic approach.

Today’s Boomers grew up during the country’s first environmental awakening, witnessing the first Earth Day in 1970 and the passing of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act in 1970 and 1972, respectively. While many of these issues went underground in the 1980s, they now have resurfaced due to the increasingly self-evident reality of climate change and environmental degradation.

Whether they like it or not, Millennials will face a future complicated by resource depletion, environmental decline and global warming-induced extreme weather events. Just as their grandparents earned recognition as the Greatest Generation, if Millennials rise to these challenges, they will be known by posterity as the Greenest Generation.


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  • Me

    Nobody is actually paying attention to this life, they just live and discuss.

    • Steven P. Mitchell

      But what other life could they be waiting for?