What brands can learn from Gen Z’s environmental awakening

Parents of kids under 18, who have extra reason to focus on the future, come closest among demographic subgroups to mirroring young Americans’ views, with 89% calling the environment a personal issue for them and 82% worrying about it.

Three further trends emerge from our polling:

Gen Z activates

While our survey’s top-line numbers largely tracked with results from a similar poll we ran in April 2022, Gen Zers made a quantum leap in their feelings about the environment. Last spring, roughly three-quarters said that they were personally concerned about climate change and the environment, a figure that rose 14 percentage points to 90% this year. The percentage of Gen Zers who believe that individuals have as significant impact as organizations or companies when it comes to the environment also dramatically increased, from 53% to 68%.

Evidence of Gen Z’s reinvigorated environmentalism also extends to brands. Five automobile companies placed in the top 20 in brand recognition in the fourth quarter of 2022 among that age group, according to the Ad Age-Harris Poll Gen Z brand tracker, after four of them had recently engaged in pushes around electric vehicles. BMW (fourth in brand ranking) announced last year that it would spend $1.7 billion to build EVs in the U.S., its biggest investment in the space. Volvo (fifth) recently announced a small SUV EV aimed at Gen Z. Cadillac (17th) promoted its new luxury EV line, Celestiq, with a campaign focused on Lenny Kravitz. And Mini (19th) introduced a new white color for its Mini Electric Cooper line, pegged to International Polar Bear Week. 

Earth Day messaging has limited effect

While roughly 7 in 10 Americans believe that brands should create Earth Day-related messaging and that such messaging is effective, fewer than 1 in 3 recalled seeing any this year, 4 percentage points fewer than the 35% who recall seeing ads last year.Still, the most receptive audience—younger Americans—is most likely to remember seeing the messaging. More than two in five Zers and millennials recalled seeing ads this year, far more than Xers (29%) and boomers (20%).