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3BL Forum: New Report Shows Gen Z Is Ready to Change the World

Maggie Kohn headshotWords by Maggie Kohn

3BL Media Sponsored Series

3BL Forum 2019: Brands Taking Stands—What's Next?
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Watch out, Gen Xers and millennials. Generation Z is ready to change the world.

According to the 2019 Porter Novelli/Cone Gen Z Purpose Study, discussed at this week’s 3BL Forum, Gen Zers believe they are the key to pushing forward on the world’s top social and environmental issues, from climate change to gun control. 

The study, surveying Americans ages 14 to 22, examined this emerging generation’s expectations of and attitudes toward company involvement in social and environmental issues—and the actions they are willing to take to positively impact topics they care about.

Nearly 90 percent of Gen Zers are worried about the environment and the planet, while the same amount are inspired when their peers like Emma González and Greta Thunberg take stands on issues, Whitney Dailey, vice president of marketing, research and insights at Porter Novelli/Cone, shared during the Forum. 

Gen Z wants to align with purpose-driven companies

While Gen Zers feel personally responsible to make a difference, the vast majority (90 percent) also believe companies must take action to help social and environmental issues. In fact, more than 90 percent say if a company makes a commitment, it should have the appropriate programs and policies in place to back up that commitment. And there’s no hiding from these digital natives: Three-quarters say they’ll do research to see if a company is being honest when it takes a stand. (Purpose-washers, beware!) 

Companies that demonstrate authentic purpose to this astute demographic will be rewarded, as Gen Zers use purpose as a core filter in deciding which companies to associate with, Dailey said. The reports data suggest that 83 percent consider a company’s purpose when deciding where to work, and nearly three-quarters factor in a company’s purpose when shopping.

“In the ever-increasing war for budding talent, companies must understand that purpose is a strong filter for Generation Z,” Alison DaSilva, executive vice president of purpose and CSR for Porter Novelli/Cone, told the 300-plus attendees at 3BL Forum this week. “Gen Zers are not willing to check their values at the workplace door, so companies need to clearly communicate how they are making an impact to appeal to this driven but discerning generation.”

Gen Zers are also willing to roll up their sleeves and participate. Around three-quarters stand ready to support companies that care in a variety of ways, including: sharing their positive opinion about a company doing good (85 percent), buying a product with a social or environmental benefit (84 percent) and learning what they can do to make a difference (also 84 percent).

Timberland campaign seeks engagement with Gen Z

Timberland is one company counting on Gen Z to help it change the world. The outdoor outfitter recently launched its Nature Needs Heroes campaign to inspire a greening movement among consumers.

“Our heroes are a community of open-minded and multi-generational ‘changemakers,’ people who devote their talents to making a difference, committed together to building a better future for the environment and the people who live in it," the company explains on its website. "We’ll lead this charge with action and doing, not just talk.”

“The campaign is a call-to-action to engage people in small, everyday actions that make a difference and help forward a greener world,” Atlanta McIlwraith, senior manager of community engagement and communication at Timberland, shared during 3BL Forum. "The small actions add up, and as many people do small actions, you get a movement—and it is movements that change the world."

McIlwraith believes that Gen Zers want companies to market with them, not at them.

Timberland’s campaign allows consumers to join in through interactive booths in high-traffic urban centers. Once inside, consumes can learn about the campaign and make a pledge on how they will live life a little greener. The company is also hosting outdoor service events throughout the United States where its “heroes”—such as musician Loyle Carner, author and YouTube host Summer Rayne Oakes, and urban gardener Keven Espiritujoin Timberland employees and consumers to revitalize green spaces.

We are finding that [Gen Zers] are really excited to learn about what we are doing to support the environment; this resonates with them,” said McIlwraith, who sees Gen Zers sharing information about the events and eco tips from the campaign’s website with their own networks.

Perhaps Gen Z’s involvement and passion about taking action to save the environment is not surprising. After all, some are even calling for Generation Z to be renamed  “Generation GND,” an homage to the youth activists’ commitment to making the Green New Deal a reality.

“People call my generation ‘Generation Z,’ as if we are the last generation, but we are not,” teen climate activist Jamie Margolin said in a hearing before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and Select Committee on the Climate Crisis in August.

And that is good to hear.

Image credit: David Sager/Unsplash

Maggie Kohn headshotMaggie Kohn

Maggie Kohn is excited to be a contributor to Triple Pundit to illustrate how business can achieve positive change in the world while supporting long-term growth. Maggie worked for more than 20 years at the biopharma giant Merck & Co., Inc., leading corporate responsibility and social business initiatives. She currently writes, speaks and consults on corporate responsibility and social impact when she is not busy fostering kittens for her local animal shelter. Click here to learn more.

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