Recently I heard about the Sustainable Game, a non-profit organization founded by junior high school students in Japan to aim for achieving the SDGs. Active and creative as they are, the students organize various programs to encourage junior high and high school students to take action for the SDGs. They manage the operations of an online community and their own online media; hold events called Kadai-Hakken Day (the day to discover issues) to learn about global issues; organize presentation competitions; and study sessions in collaboration with companies. I was so surprised by the level of awareness and commitment of these students, who devote themselves to coordinating an organization of this scale and projects of this kind.
The so-called Generation Z (generation born in and after 1995), including the students mentioned above, has grown up hearing words such as “climate change”, “sustainable” and “LGBT” from an early age and had opportunities to study these topics in school education or elsewhere. This must greatly influence their awareness about sustainability.
The State of Consumer Spending: Gen Z Shoppers Demand Sustainable Retail, a consumer survey published in the US this year, reports that 62% of Generation Z respondents replied that they preferred to buy products of sustainable brands while only 39% of baby boomers (born between 1946-1964) agreed with this statement, which shows a vast divide between the two generations. The survey also revealed the other characteristics among Generation Z respondents, including: more than 70% expect retailers and brands to become more sustainable; more than 50% are willing to pay more for sustainable products; and they demonstrate a high demand for “recommerce,” or resale/ consignment business.
We can see the same trend in other surveys as well. The latest study of seafood consumers conducted across 23 countries for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), for example, found that a higher proportion of 18 to 24-year-olds compared to other age groups were concerned that their favorite fish would not be available to eat within 20 years. Furthermore, 74% of 18 to 24-year-olds replied that they as consumers had taken an action in the last year to protect fish and seafood, and 89% answered that they were willing to do so in the future.
Let’s look at another survey. While close attention has been paid this year to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the economy and consumer spending, How COVID-19 Will Permanently Change Consumer Behavior, a consumer research conducted in 15 countries by Accenture, found a rise in conscious consumption. When asked about their current shopping habits that are likely to sustain post-pandemic, as many as 54% agreed with the statement: “make more sustainable choices.” This was the third most popular response following “limit food waste” and “shop more health-consciously.” The trend toward sustainable consumption does not seem to slow down in this crisis, but rather gain more importance.
Of course, even if the young generation were conscious and concerned about sustainability, whether or not they actually select sustainability-oriented products in stores would be a different story. Their economic situation and other factors might not allow them to spend as they would like to. Still, as I have held workshops for children on ethical consumption and fair trade besides my work with the EcoNetworks, I surely have felt the change in the level of knowledge and awareness on environmental and social issues in comparison with older generations. Many high school students I have met had already learned about fair trade in school (in home economics class for instance), and more children — including elementary school students — seemed to know about the SDGs. Some of these schoolchildren I met were even trying to set up an “ethical club” in school.
The greater knowledge and awareness about sustainability demonstrated by the young generation suggests that sustainable consumption will continue to grow as a movement. Corporations that work on sustainable business practices in their entire supply chain will be able to not only fulfill their social responsibilities but also appeal to the future customers, which will constitute an important pillar of their corporate strategies.
（Momoko Miyahara/ Writer）