NEW YORK – After a year of lockdowns and deprivation, a new GfK survey reveals that the environment is still a powerful concern for Americans – and that younger consumers are leading in the charge on green awareness and activism.

The study – conducted last month among US consumers ages 18 to 65 – shows that 53 percent of Americans are more concerned about the environment today than one year ago. That figure jumps to 60 percent among consumers 18 to 35 years old, while it falls to just 40 percent in the 50-to-65 age bracket.

In addition, 56 percent of the younger group say that the social justice protests of 2020 inspired them to embrace environmental causes – compared to 43 percent of all Americans and just 24 percent of the older age segment.

When asked why brands support environmental causes, four in ten (41 percent) 18-to-35 consumers say they believe the brands have only altruistic motives. (See Table 1.) Another 52 percent of these young Americans say brands have a mix of altrusitic and financial reasons – while just 7 percent believe that companies are only in it for the money.

Table 1. Why do brands support green causes?

 All adultsAges
18 to 35
50 to 65
To do the right thing only35%41%23%
To make money only21%23%25%
Both financial and high-minded motives44%36%52%

Source: GfK, What’s Next 4 Consumers

Younger consumers also have very different sources of environmental news. Over seven in ten (73%) say they have noticed more green news stories on social media in the past year – double the proportion for the older group (37%). On the flip side, 50-to-65 Americans say they have been seeing more coverage of the environment on TV news.

When it comes to the causes brands should support, recyclable packaging, avoiding plastic waste, and reducing pollution all rank high with US consumers. The 18-to-35 age group, however, is above average when it comes to issues such as recycling/reselling and use of electric delivery vehicles. (See Table 2.)

 Table 2. Green issues brands should focus on

 All adultsMaleFemaleAges 18 to 35Ages 36 to 50Ages 51 to 65
Avoiding plastic waste42%39%46%39%40%49%
Recyclable packaging40%36%43%36%40%44%
Minimize pollution35%34%36%35%30%40%
Reusing/reselling items18%20%16%20%17%15%
Using electric delivery vehicles12%15%10%15%12%10%

Source: GfK What’s Next 4 Consumers

“For young adults in the US, sustainability remains an important issue and is part of an interconnected-web of causes that they see as urgent and compelling,“ said Tim Kenyon, VP at GfK Consumer Life „The pandemic and social justice causes have meshed with growing worries about climate change, leading young adults to see themselves both uniquely vulnerable and empowered.  More young adults are following in the footsteps of previous generations of activists, who considered the delicate relationship between environmental justice and social progress and vice-versa.  And while these Americans may be more trusting of brands and news sources, companies should not interpret this as carte blanche to take green causes straight to the bank. Authenticity and true investment in whatever causes brands embrace remain essential.“

The latest What’s Next 4 Consumers report is based on interviews with 1,004 US consumers between May 12 and 21, 2021.