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How youngsters are consuming for a better world How youngsters are consuming for a better world

The headlines are not hiding it: natural disasters, extreme weather circumstances and scores of shortages are hitting our planet. The attention for the consequences of global warming is rising and people seem to become increasingly aware of the fact that they might be the culprit behind it all. And this growing conscience is making people prepared to act. But also brands should take this into account and react to this need for action. But how can they do that concretely? The answer seems simple: by integrating durability in their offer. For instance by focusing on the plastics issue and tackling the mountain of plastic waste via recycled or ecological alternatives…

Durable consuming and the plastics challenge

But what exactly is durable consuming? Durable consumer behavior implies that the consumer pays additional attention to the production, usage and degradation process of a given product. This implies more specifically that we make a more conscious choice for ecological products which are leaving as small a footprint as possible on the environment in every phase. The goal is to relieve the planet and to respect its resources and finally to guarantee a stable living environment for the current and future generations.

Hot tweetawayHot tweetaway: Consumers spend more attention to production, usage & degradation of products insit.es/2fauVKn by @ElsDupont via @CoolBrands #betterworld

Yet durable consumption seems harder than imagined, as our daily consumption patterns undeniably leave behind a pile of plastic, the same plastic which is a synthetic material with a negative effect on the environment both during the production and the breakdown process. During the production, a lot of greenhouse gasses are released which in their turn are one of the main culprits for global warming. On the other hand, plastic is mainly used as packaging material. As the term suggests, this is what we throw away once the product is unpacked or consumed. However, the problem is that plastic is like ill weeds: it grows apace. Furthermore, it often ends up in our oceans where is does even more damage.

A smart student appears to have found a solution… Boyan Slat came up with the innovating idea to clean our oceans by means of special installations with floating arms which move with the flow of the currents, in a way that plastic debris gradually gets collected between the arms and it becomes easier to remove it from the seas. His Ocean Cleanup project started this year. Smart organizations should not miss the opportunity to go along and to address the plastics issue. Two specific examples seem to have a lot of potential to stimulate durable consumer behavior next year: products from recycled ocean debris and ecologic alternatives to plastic.

The Ocean Cleanup

Second life for plastic from the ocean

Many initiatives are already trying to minimize and improve the destroying impact of humans on our environment, such as the launch in recent years of a number of special product ranges with the underlying target to free the ocean of all plastic.

For example, in 2014 the Dutch clothes brand G-Star RAW launched an exceptional denim range produced entirely from plastic fished from the ocean and then recycled. Other brands rapidly decided to jump on that wagon as well. Sports clothing brand Adidas launched a new shoe range, based on the same principle. The brand fishes plastic from the sea and gives it a second life by turning it into durable shoes and clothing. The top of the shoe consists of thread and fibers of fishermen’s nets which were abandoned in the ocean, whereas the sole is made of durable material which can easily be broken down once the product is no longer being used.

Recycled plastic clothing

Both Adidas and G-star RAW collaborated with Parley for the Oceans. Parley is an organization which is creating awareness for the waste problem which is haunting our oceans and which therefore attaches a great deal of importance to a structural collaboration with a wide range of brands. Parley’s vision is pioneering, as the organization realizes more than ever that they cannot solve the ocean issue by themselves and that the solution needs to be integrated in the consumers’ behavior. In their opinion the responsibility for the ocean does not only lie with creative industries, major brands and environmental activists, but in the end also with the consumer. Their target is clear: the human economy should get in line with the natural ecosystem. Together with the famous singer Pharrell Williams, Parley is trying to spread this vision among consumers. Or as Pharrell says: “(literally) shoulder the responsibility for the ocean”.

Hot tweetawayHot tweetaway: How the #human economy is getting in line with the natural #ecosystem insit.es/2fauVKn by @ElsDupont via @CoolBrands #nextgen #betterworld

The first initiatives are also surfacing in other industries. Ecover, a company for ecological laundry, cleaning and care products, decided this year to launch a bottle made from recycled plastic. This Ecover Ocean Plastic bottle consists for a tenth of plastic fished from ocean, rivers and canals. That way the company not only hopes to fight pollution but also wishes to make people more conscious of their impact on the environment.

Other more local initiatives are also trying to aim for durability by omitting plastic and other packaging waste. The first zero waste shop Robuust opened in Belgium last year, where you can buy a wide range of unpacked products; this is the shop’s way of trying to tackle the waste problem right at the start of the cycle.

Fungus as alternative for plastic

Yet these durable initiatives will not be the only ones guiding the market in the following years. Plastic will not be merely recycled; other alternatives will also be created for this environmentally unfriendly synthetic. These days many experts praise fungus as the alternative for the future, as fungus is easy to break down when thrown away. As packaging materials are meant to be thrown away, fungus would offer a huge ecological advantage. But how can fungus replace plastic? In order to come to a solid product, the fungus mycelium is used, which is growing in sawdust or cork. Rather than to let the fungus develop fully, the growth process is interrupted at an earlier stage, so that the microorganism can be used to create strong and rather flexible materials. Furthermore, the fungus can also function as an alternative to many other things, such as polystyrene, rubber, insulation material and even textiles.

NextGen as front runner

So why is it so likely that durability – especially concerning plastic – will become the focal point of consumer behavior in the next years? The Ocean Cleanup project may well aim the spotlight on the issue, NextGen are the ones who will determine the effective impact. This new generation embraces Generation Y (the Millennials) and Generation Z (youngsters born after 1995). Compared with other generations, both groups seem to attach more importance to green consumption patterns. For example, Millennials have already shown several times that they react well to durable actions, as about half this target group pays attention to durable labels and is willing to pay more for them. Yet it is mainly Generation Z which seems to lead the way to durability. These youngsters are characterized by an extremely realistic view on the world, as they are very aware of the challenges the world is facing these days. This is caused by the fact that they grew up in times of terror, economic recession and environmental issues. The latter problem is translated increasingly by Generation Z into concrete action. The numbers prove it all: more than 75% of these youngsters are aware of the fact that our world really needs protecting against the destructive impact of mankind. No less than 60% want to start acting in order to improve the world.

Hot tweetawayHot tweetaway: The next generation of consumers is dreaming of a #betterworld insit.es/2fauVKn by @ElsDupont via @CoolBrands #nextgen #plasticpollution

NextGen clearly realizes the baleful human impact on our planet and wants to act. They do so by focusing on brands which have a clear vision on durability and corporate social responsibility. Research also shows that, the more a brand attaches importance to those, the better its reputation. Furthermore, brands should not only proclaim their vision, they should also organize concrete actions. The current technologies make a company’s actions very transparent, which makes it very easy for this generation of digital natives to check whether the companies are not merely making empty promises. Because of this great transparency, NextGen can effectively check to what extent companies contribute to a better world. In other words, the more a brand has clearly integrated corporate social responsibility and durability in its company culture, the more NextGen will be inclined to choose that brand. Which is why producers of alternatives for plastic made from recycled plastic or ecological alternatives can definitely count on a lot of attention. NextGen will also increasingly have an impact on the profits. On the one hand almost all Millennials have reached adulthood but they are often still living at home, which means their budget and thus also their purchasing power increases. On the other hand, research has shown that Generation Z youngsters have a significant impact on the household purchases, where durable products will become more important.

One thing is certain: NextGen will be the generation which will entirely integrate durability in its values and standards. They have strikingly inspiring visions and at the same time they dispose of the required level of idealism to act. The consumer behavior of the future will be greener and more conscious.

Posted in Insights