In mid-August, our friends at Seventh Generation reached out to us at change agency Futerra: they’d decided to donate their national TV airtime to the Youth Climate Movement to help amplify their vision in the run-up to the Global Climate Strike, and wondered if we’d consider developing a campaign on behalf of the Movement. It was an easy answer: we’d do whatever it took to support this incredibly inspiring and courageous group of young leaders. The result of our partnership with them and 350.org is a campaign including this gorgeous film, in which several of the leaders themselves star.
You all know what happened next: the Movement inspired (probably) the biggest march in global climate history, youth leaders addressed the US Congress and the United Nations in the same week, and Google searches for climate change beat out Game of Thrones for the first time ever.
Owing to their success in commanding our attention, we heard loud and clear from the Movement what they expect from world leaders. But at Futerra, we felt we’d had less of a chance to hear what Youth Leaders want from business and brands. Since we work a lot with major global businesses, we decided to find out what the next generation expects of our clients by opening up the dialogue.
Last Wednesday we invited leaders in the Youth Climate Movement to an “Honest Conversation” with business leaders. Over 100 business leaders packed the room to hear from Xiye Bastida, Jade Lozada and Olivia Payne, all leaders in #fridaysforfuture New York, key organizers of the highly successful NYC Strike and all 17-year-old high school seniors.
The name of the event was inspired by research we conducted earlier this year with The Consumer Goods Forum in which we found that Gen Z are taking a hard line on action, honesty and transparency from brands – radically more so than Millennial consumers. For example, 84% of Gen Z globally think brands aren’t honest enough about how their factory workers are treated, and 79% think they’re not honest enough when it comes to being environmentally friendly (compared to 69% and 66% of millennials respectively). Only 12% of Gen Z say they are very satisfied with brands’ efforts to make positive change in the world (compared to 64% of Millennials). The findings led us to dub Gen Z “The Honest Generation” – which, as Xiye Bastida pointed out, is a step up from their current name. (“What are you trying to tell us by calling us Gen Z? Are you telling us we are the last generation?” she asked the audience. “You gave us that name.”)
So, we were expecting honesty above all else. And we got it. Our panelists’ main message? Change – or risk total irrelevance.
All three speakers said their concerns about environmental and social issues are changing the way they and their generation consume – rewarding brands that take action and penalizing those that don’t.
“Climate change is not our hobby, it is our way of life” said Xiye Bastida, adding that she has ditched her Forever 21 habit since becoming involved in the climate movement and reiterating that she shares rather than consuming new. (Note: Forever 21’s recent bankruptcy may be the canary in the fast fashion coal mine.)
“I don’t know if it’s showing up in your sales, but I don’t shop as much as I used to. We’re not purchasing as much, we’re building things ourselves, and sharing with our friends,” said Olivia Payne.
The speakers were crystal clear on their expectations of business and on their priority issues. “One, no more fossil fuels. Two, a just transition for workers and people of color who are disproportionately impacted. Three, hold polluters accountable,” said Jade Lozada, adding that regenerative agriculture is also a key concern.
“As a business leader [I want to know you are] positively impacting the community, and that means learning about race in the workplace, gender in the workplace, your environmental impacts,” said Olivia Payne.
Asked if any brands are doing enough, all agreed: no. But they did mention Seventh Generation, Patagonia and Futerra (thank you!) as some businesses getting it right by supporting their movement and critically, taking action. “You didsomething,” said Xiye.
The good news: all reiterated that they were excited and willing to partner with business to make the change and were ready to reward businesses who do the right thing.
“If you do think you can influence your business in a different way you will succeed because we are behind you. Millions of us are behind you and you can trust us to not go away,” said Xiye.
The panel closed by making it clear that that they expect nothing short of radical transformation from business and brands.
“We are going to re-evaluate our ways of life,” said Xiye Bastida. “We are here, and we are here to stay. We are here to demand action and we are here to disrupt. We are 25% of the present but we will be 100% of the future”.
These Youth Leaders confirmed what our research had shown: hiding behind corporate speak won’t sit well with this group; and their eye for sincerity means that the warm, fuzzy, friendly speak won’t resonate with Gen Z without some serious substance behind it. Brands must talk openly about all aspects of the product, including what’s missing, the people behind it and who it’s intended for. And they should share their opinions – Gen Z want to hear them. This generation wants change, and that means vulnerability, risk taking and big ideas.
The Honest Conversation closed with a response from my colleague, Futerra co-founder Solitaire Townsend.
“We are not doing enough and we are really, really sorry and we will need to push much, much harder,” she said.
The Honest Generation will settle for nothing less. It’s time to get to work.
With enormous thanks and gratitude to Xiye Bastida, Jade Lozada and Olivia Payne for their tireless work and leadership on behalf of climate movement and for taking the time to have this conversation during such an important week – and on a school night to boot. Thanks also to Sabelo Narasinham and 350.org for their partnership.