This is the second article in a series about sustainable businesses. Read the first article about sustainability marketing tips.
Today’s consumers are enlightened and informed. They can’t be tricked into going green; they’re watching to see how brands take sustainability initiatives in ways that are authentic. Generation Z in particular (people born between the mid 1990s and the mid 2000s) is beginning to have a major impact on culture — specifically in the sustainability realm.
These aptly named “Zillennials” are a main driving force behind 2021 consumer trends, as they make up a quarter of the U.S. population and account for 40 percent of all consumers. This kind of impact means Gen Z is shifting habits for consumers of all ages. The following are a few of the sustainable trends for which Gen Z is setting the stage.
In a survey published in early 2020, more than a third of Zillennials said they wanted to be meat-free by 2021. They’re known to prefer fresh and wholesome foods, and 79 percent say they already choose to go meatless at least once or twice a week.
Some experts say that, in addition to cutting back on travel emissions, cutting out meat is the “single biggest way” an individual can lower their carbon footprint. For consumers who find the task of going fully vegetarian daunting, they’re simply reducing their meat and dairy intake and increasing their plant-based intake.
Brands are already capitalizing on this trend. Dunkin has added plant-based meat substitute Beyond Meat to their menu and deployed an oat milk option nationwide. Burger King was the first fast-food chain to debut an Impossible meat product with their Impossible Whopper, and White Castle recently added an Impossible Slider to their menu. In 2021, you can expect to see more plant-based options around the world, from a Beyond Meat & Taco Bell partnership to additional Ben & Jerry’s vegan ice cream flavors.
Gen Z is sparking a sober revolution. They’re consuming 20 percent less alcohol per capita than their millennial counterparts drank at their age. Whether it’s fueled by the rising cost of alcohol, the transition to remote learning in college, or just for general health reasons, Gen Z just isn’t as interested in drinking.
A drawback in alcohol consumption may have a positive effect on the environment, too. Currently, 50 billion cans go un-recycled each year in the United States and 70 percent of wine bottles end up in landfills. And less time spent in bars and less cash spent on alcohol means more time and money for causes that matter to them.
Alcohol brands have been heading this direction already, and continue to do so in 2021. Budweiser Zero recently announced the launch of their alcohol-free, 50-calorie lager and Athletic Brewing Co. launched a no-alcohol IPA. This year, niche brands are focusing on marketing their alcohol-free gin, zero-booze canned rosé, and delicious cocktail mixers that can stand alone as a mocktail.
Cars used to be the ultimate status symbol. But for Gen Z car owners, make or model doesn’t really matter — 56 percent say a car represents no more than a means of transportation. Many aren’t driving at all; 30 percent of Gen Z consumers say they have no intention or desire to get a driver’s license.
That leads the way for environmentally friendly alternatives for 2021 consumer trends. Autonomous vehicles could reduce emissions. Shared micro mobility — like fleets of city bikes or electric scooters — are being used more often for short distances, especially in big cities with moderate weather. For trips that do require a car, Gen Z would rather opt to take a ride-hailing service like Uber or Lyft than rent or buy their own vehicle.
So if they’re not driving themselves, who’s driving? In 2021 and years beyond, the market will be booming for delivery — takeout, groceries, products, you name it. Major delivery companies like Amazon are accelerating the transition to fleets of electric vehicles. Brand image is becoming less focused on status, and more about playing a major role in a sustainable future — so companies with visible delivery fleets are considering going electric.
If your business is at all related to alcohol, meat, or cars, reading this article may have set off alarm bells. But if 2020 showed us anything, it’s that the most resilient brands are masters at pivoting. No matter what industry you’re in, think about how you can position your company to be forward-thinking. Can you add plant-based alternatives to your menu? What about setting some EV procurement goals or offering virtual and delivery options? Is there a space for low- and non-alcoholic drinks? When you offer multiple avenues for consumers to enjoy your product, you and the customer will both benefit.
Knowing that these sustainability trends are the future, brands may want to consider shifting their communication strategies. It’s important to consider this growing demographic even if Gen Z isn’t your target. As they continue to drive these trends, their sentiments will filter down to other generations. Now is the time to focus on the way you talk about your products and how you might be able to incorporate sustainability initiatives into your company.
Sustainability marketing goes beyond posting a picture for Earth Day. Today’s consumers are educated and aware. While consumers don’t expect brands to be perfect, they do want them to be transparent and authentic.
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