Many of us Millennials were born to Baby Boomers, the original flower children. Our parents popularized the phrase “tree huggers” both as a proud epithet and a lighthearted derision. The hippies among them coined “Save the Planet,” “Save the Whales,” and many other phrases to preserve the ecosystem and all manners of species, though perhaps stopping short of opossums.
In the ’60s, Lady Bird Johnson got the country to stop throwing trash out of car windows. (Guess that guy who cut me off and threw a burger at my windshield a few months ago didn’t get the memo. Oh well, joke’s on him. He missed.) In the ’70s, Greenpeace was formed. And to this day, they’re still heckling unsuspecting weekend shoppers. Thanks for that.
It has been a long and bumpy road for the tree huggers, but with a little help from a bunch of influential famous people and, you know, the majority of the scientific community that believes in climate change, it would appear they have succeeded in raising a generation whose collective conscience is a bright shade of green.
It probably also didn’t hurt that you let us watch a lot of children’s programming with not-so-subtle pro-environmental messaging, which likely seeped into our collective subconscious. I’ll never forget “Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest,” (1992), in which Robin Williams voices a cartoon lab bat trying to help his fairy friends defeat maniacal tree-cutters who are being controlled by an evil oil/pollution monster voiced by none other than the heir-apparent to Vincent Price’s creepy voice, Tim Curry.
You would be hard pressed to find an older Millennial who has not seen that movie. And most of us have seen it at least three times.
Rocko and his dog, Spunky, from “Rocko’s Modern Life” (Nickelodeon image)
Then you had kids’ TV programs like “Rocko’s Modern Life” (1993-96), which among its double-layer of kid and adult themes also snuck in a pessimistic view of corporate responsibility for pollution. And its musical episode on the environment can still be quoted by many a Millennial who was lucky to have Nickelodeon at the time: “R-E-C-Y-C-L-E, recycle! C-O-N-S-E-R-V-E, conserve! Don’t you P-O-L-L-U-T-E pollute the river, sky or seas, or else you’re going to get what you deserve!”
Cartoons were a little disturbing in the ’90s, now that I think about it.
A 2015 report by Pew Research found that 60% of people aged 18 to 29 years old attributed increasing temperatures to human activities rather than natural patterns or in lieu of holding the viewpoint that there is no evidence of climate change.
The report also found that 72% of Millennials supported curbing power plant emissions. Among this generation, 74% of those surveyed believed that alternative energy sources such as wind and solar should be a more important priority for addressing America’s energy needs rather than oil, coal and natural gas.
The 2015 Nielsen Global Survey of Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability, which involved polling more than 30,000 online consumers in 60 countries, found that despite “coming of age in one of the most difficult economic climates in the past 100 years,” 75% of Millennial respondents would pay extra for sustainable offerings.
See, we’re great people. We’re broke and we’ll still shell out some extra change so our kids won’t have to find another planet to live on.
Consulting firm Maru/Matchbox’s recent white paper on how Millennials are influencing the future of food found a similar pattern: most Millennials are willing to pay more for sustainably sourced foods. In fact, about 57% of Millennials actually expect their food to be sustainably sourced.
When it comes to the green-minded Millennials, businesses might want to take notice.
On April 5, findings were released from a study commissioned by Rubbermaid Commercial Products entitled “Recycling in the Workplace: A Millennial View.” That study found that nine out of 10 Millennials ages 18 to 34 believe it is important to work for a sustainable company.
For those companies who might be at a loss of where to begin, don’t worry – we’ll help you out. Eighty-two percent of Millennials seek opportunities to assist their companies in becoming more sustainable, with 67% believing they have enough influence to make an impact on workplace sustainability, according to the study.
In a grandiose gesture of selflessness, more than two-thirds of Millennials said they “are so committed to sustainability issues they would be willing to give up social media for a week if everyone at their company recycled,” according to Rubbermaid.
If that’s not commitment to the environment, I don’t know what is.
As Earth Day 2017 (April 22) approaches, the majority of American Millennials who believe in climate change and who are pro-sustainability and pro-clean energy are faced with a quandary.
According to the Brookings Institute, only 37% of the Millennial electorate voted for Donald Trump. Considering that we make up the largest living age cohort in America, you would think the election might have turned out differently – but only 50% of us voted.
Now, a Millennial majority country that believes in climate change is contending with a presidential administration bent on rolling back environmental policies of previous administrations. On March 28, President Trump issued an executive order targeting about a dozen regulatory policies aimed at reducing pollution and improving the environment.
His intention, it should be noted, is to reduce regulatory burdens on industries.
The reprise of that song from “Rocko’s Modern Life” went something like: “You can’t fight city hall – they are big and we are small.”
So what will the green-minded majority of Millennials who didn’t vote for Trump do? Will half of them sit on their hands as they did this past election? Will they give up social media for a week and call it progress? Will the words of Rocko, the Hawaiian-shirt wearing wallaby, ring hollow for eternity?
I’ll be curious to see what happens on Earth Day. And the next four years.
(Note: If you would like to make suggestions for future Millennial Pulses, e-mail me at email@example.com.)