Young People and The Environment

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Young people are most worried about climate change and pollution, the effects of which they fear will ultimately lead to the destruction of the planet

The majority of young people are environmentally conscious and actively care for the environment. They are worried about issues such as climate change, earth & sea pollution and animal extinction, and feel strongly that there is a sense of urgency to repair the planet.

However, a number of young people who are supporters of preventing climate change don’t think enough of the population care about these issues, and that Governments and big businesses/brands are not implementing policies or making changes that are radical enough. There is a shared sentiment that large corporations are wasteful, burning fossils fuels at an alarming rate and are not using renewable energy sources enough.

Young people are also concerned about animal welfare, whether that be through the slaughtering of animals for food, to earth and water pollution that is destroying eco-systems.

79% of young people claim to be concerned about current environmental issues.

Environmental concerns in the words of young people…

I think it is obvious that weather patterns have become far more extreme compared to the previous 10 years for example. There are also a lot of threats to animals with even Giraffe’s now being endangered. It worries me about how the planet could be in another 10 or 20 years.” – Female, 24, Pop:Socials, Alternative

Climate change. The planet is warming at an alarm rate and the effects are now physically apparent across the world. The very fact that we can notice these differences and their impact on our daily lives suggests ignoring them is incredibly problematic.” – Male, 19

I don’t think there’s enough action happening by the people who can actually do something, it’s great that the topic has become mainstream now, thanks to protestors and scientists who have raised their voices, but we need action to clean the planet.” – Female, 19, Pop:Socials, Alternative

Young people want to have a bigger impact, but are unaware of how they can make this happen

A common thread throughout is that young people think the environment has become a bigger topic of conversation, and is being campaigned about more, both of which have led to greater levels of awareness.

Young people feel they’re “doing their bit”, but note that their actions are limited to one to two of the following: recycling, using compost bins, using bio-degradable products (e.g. paper straws), using re-usable products (e.g. water bottles/coffee cups and shopping bags), reducing electricity/water use and picking up litter. There is an appetite amongst young people to be educated on what else they can be doing to help care for the environment and minimize their carbon footprint.

A few young people said they don’t think about the environment that much, should be doing more and feel quite selfish for not caring more deeply about their planet.

Less common but other notable ways in which some young people care for the environment is through reducing (or stopping altogether) meat and/or dairy consumption, taking public transport/walking, buying sustainable clothing e.g. charity/vintage shops, donating clothes and refraining from buying fast fashion brands e.g. Primark.

the majority of young people are aware of companies engaging with environmental policies

There were high levels of awareness amongst young people for brands being more environmentally conscious. Of these brands, the ones that stood out most were focused on making a significant public commitment to reduce their environmental impact – sometimes in a way that young people perceived were not necessarily profitable for the brand.

An overwhelming sentiment emerged from the responses – if young people feel as though brands are prioritising caring for the environment, it resonates strongly with them. A sense of commitment from the brand must clear and definable, proving that they are not ‘green-washing’ and merely jumping on the bandwagon. Young people are not easily fooled, and will immediately sniff it out if a brand is not being authentic.

What is clear from these responses is that it is really important to young people that brands are actively caring for the environment – they have a genuine interest in the topic, and keenly seek out information about brands and their environmental policies. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that a significant proportion of the young people we spoke to are not only knowledgeable and well-informed, but they are passionate about the topic.

I feel very strongly about sustainable business as I care about the future of the kids I will raise and the environment. We need to encourage big business to reduce their carbon footprint, and engage in sustainable practices in an authentic and genuine way – F, 21

LUSH, is the stand-out environmental brand for young people

Lush was clearly the stand-out brand when we prompted 16-24 year olds to give examples of big businesses/brands that are actively caring for the environment. It was described as a brand that is synonymous with being environmentally friendly and ensuring their products are ethically sourced. This is perceived to be unique in an industry that has traditionally had a bad ethical reputation, particularly in relation to animal testing.

This group attributed their high awareness of Lush’s involvement in caring for the environment through their clear brand identity and prevalent marketing messages, which have clearly cut through strongly with this age group.

Lush is quite a well-known environmentally friendly brand. All their products are ethically sourced and they do a lot of awareness work for environmental causes and concerns. I think this is really important because it not only provides good products that aren’t damaging, but informs a large amount of people about environmental issues – F,17

H&M’s commitments to a more sustainable fashion future were widely praised

H&M’s commitments to a more sustainable fashion future were widely praised

It was widely known amongst the young people that we spoke to that H&M has made a public commitment to a more sustainable fashion future – notably by only using renewable sources of electricity and sustainability sourced materials for their collections. There was also an awareness of the H&M clothes recycling scheme, which young people recognise as being an important way of combating fast fashion.

A key highlight of H&M is their commitment to use fully renewable electricity. In 2016, almost 96% of the total electricity used by the company in its own operations came from renewable sources. Their future goals and actions are now extremely important, as they try to help the environment in different aspects – F, 22, Urban, Short:Snaps

there are four key ways in which young people are aware of big businesses/brands caring for the environment

  1. Reducing waste and pollution in clearly definable ways
  2. Investing in renewable products or energy sources
  3. Actively reducing their carbon footprint
  4. Supporting charities through donations and volunteering

1. Reducing waste and pollution in clearly definable ways

Of the big businesses/brands that young people are aware of actively caring for the environment, the majority were mentioned for their use of recyclable or reusable materials in their products and/or packaging. This was particularly prevalent amongst fashion or FMCG brands. Starbucks was frequently mentioned as an example due to their initiative selling reusable cups and offering a 10% discount for people who bring their own cups.

It was widely acknowledged by our respondents that it’s increasingly important brands use their platform to encourage consumers to act more sustainably. There was also a sense that even little changes are important as they have a big impact – young people praise brands that are at least doing something.

Starbucks – it is important they make a bold statement about their actions, showing an ‘if we can do it’ then ‘you can do it’ attitude – M, 20, Urban, Short:Snaps

Supermarket brands were frequently mentioned as making significant environmental contributions in this space – which is particularly important given their propensity to be wasteful and overuse plastic packaging.

The palm oil industry is currently a silent destroyer of our rainforests, which I’m sure a lot of people, including myself, were not aware of until recently. I think what Iceland are proposing is extremely necessary and makes me want to support them by buying their products. There is still more to be done though – F, 20, Aspirant, VOD:Bingers

2. Investing in renewable products or energy sources

Car brands were most frequently mentioned as operating in this space, primarily for their investment in electric cars to help reduce the environmental impacts of motor vehicles. Mentioned examples include BMW, Ford and Chevrolet, amongst others.

One example that a few respondents commented on is the partnership between Soriana, Mexico’s second-largest supermarket chain, and GemEx, a renewable energy company in Mexico, who are working together to develop two wind parks in the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico. The supermarket chain has plans to use the electricity from wind farms to power its stores. The company aims to source 100% of its electricity needs from renewables. Each wind farm will be made up of 15 wind turbines – the total project investment is estimated at US$150 million each.

This is a very good project to save energy, and particularly important as some areas of Mexico suffer difficulties with access to electricity. It is great to create awareness of this issue – M, 19, Mainstream, Pop:Socials

Another example a couple of respondents were aware of was Bimbo Bakery’s recent investment. As one of the largest bakeries in the world, Bimbo made an investment of 20 million pesos into building an Ecological Shopping Centre in Mexico (inaugurated in 2013). This centre has become the new sustainable distribution model in the company, and uses only renewable energy sources to power the vehicle operations.

This centre also receives vehicles whose life cycle is about to end, these are converted into new electric cars by the bakery engineers. Which is interesting and important, because they reuse something that someone else is going to throw away, I think it’s important for this reason, it would be less crap to put it that way. – F, 18, Urban, Short:Snaps

3. Reducing carbon footprint

Ikea supports sustainable design, natural resources and they take on initiatives such as tree planting to reduce their carbon footprint – F, 19, Mainstream, Short:Snaps

Sofology – instead of offering Black Friday discounts, they are promising to plant a tree for every sale that is made over this period. I think their actions are hugely important. Not only is it making a significant change considering the number of sales they make, but it is promoting a sustainable mindset and bringing it to people’s attention which could have a huge snowball effect.

EasyJet was mentioned a few times by respondents as it is set to become the first major airline to operate zero carbon flights across the entire network by offsetting it’s jet fuel emissions through projects that include planting of trees, protection against deforestation, production of renewable energies, or working with local communities to reduce emissions.

I think this is really important as air travel is an enormous cause of pollution and increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and reducing this is extremely important – F, 21

4. Supporting charities through donating or volunteering

A few brands were mentioned for their commitment to giving back to the environment, namely Patagonia – a outdoor clothing company which has become synonymous with it’s sustainable approach to business. Patagonia operates a business model that is committed to donating a percentage of profits towards conservation and creating ethically-minded clothes that minimise waste products.

Patagonia – donating profits towards conservation and creating ethical clothes by considering waste, source of materials recycling etc. I think it’s super important because fast fashion is terrible for the environment – M, 20, Urban, VOD:Bingers

Brands being environmentally conscious is very important to young people

Many respondents spoke about how important it was for big businesses/brands to use their position to not only create awareness for the climate crisis, but to lead the way by example and encourage the public to act in more environmentally friendly ways. They agree that this is particularly important for big global brands who have a responsibility to their consumers across the world and the global environment in which they operate.

“As consumers we can only buy what is available and the big businesses need to take responsibility for what they sell so we can all make better choices.” – F, 23, Mainstream, VOD:Socials

“Big businesses really are the only ones who have the power to make really and impactful change. To be honest they are the main reason we’re all in this mess” – M, 22, Leading Edge, VOD:Socials

Young people point to two industries where brands need to focus on being more environmentally conscious due to their wasteful nature – fashion and beauty.

“Clothes are currently very under-looked as a source of pollution in the environment. Adidas has made a trainer that is 100% recyclable, which is great because they are one of the largest shoe/sportswear companies in the world.” – F, 22, Leading Edge, Short:Snaps

“I think sustainability in big business is very important, especially those that product a lot of waste such as the beauty products market.” – F, 19, Alternative, Pop:Socials

They feel strongly that brands need to use their influence to have a positive impact, set an example for the rest of their industry and make a real difference

Today, businesses and brands do have a massive influence on society, so if these companies can do their part to help the environment, then it would encourage others to be more eco-friendly as well as make it easier. – F, 18, Alternative, Pop:Socials

McDonald’s changing their plastic straws and plastic tubs into paper is important because you think of the millions of people around the world everyday who eat McDonald’s, so it will make a bit difference – F, 22, Leading Edge, Short:Snaps

Sky – Support ocean rescue, via employees who volunteer towards this and also through their office environment e.g. plastic free no water bottles and a café made from recycled plastics. Their actions are important because they are a large company who as such can have a big impact and encourage their customers, employees and other businesses to follow suit.

It was unanimous that young people feel more positively about brands that are committed to caring for the environment

In many cases, a perception that brands are committed to caring for the environment translates into an increased propensity to purchase from these brands.

I feel more positively about them than brands that aren’t environmentally conciliatory; it makes me more likely to buy their stuff as I know they’re conscious producers. – F, 17

I think they are setting great examples and I would feel good about buying from a brand who is shown to be helping and caring – F, 20, Aspirant, VOD:Bingers

Some of this group like to reward brands for making a conscious effort to reduce their environmental impact, and feel very strongly about the topic.

It is a very important topic, and anybody who tries to help the environment should be rewarded greater than those who are not doing anything to combat the climate crisis – F, 20, Mainstream, Pop:Socials

I feel very strongly about sustainable businesses, and will buy from them because we need to encourage big businesses to reduce their carbon footprint further – F, 21

However, there is still a degree of scepticism amongst young people about brands and the nature of their environmental policies

There was still a fair amount of criticism for brands that are publicly seen to be making a significant commitment and yet are merely jumping on the bandwagon to raise their brand’s profile and ultimately drive profits.

I don’t trust big brands 100% even if they’re saying they’re environmentally conscious there’s a lot of loopholes they could be using, so I’m always sceptical – F, 19, Alternative, Pop:Socials

In reality, there are very few businesses based on values that promote environmental-friendliness and sustainability. Most large companies have placed profits over the environment for decades and are only marketing themselves as environmentally conscious now as a result of changing consumer preferences and a growing public awareness of climate change. This makes it difficult to trust ‘environmentally conscious’ companies without knowing their full history.

The phrase ‘green-washing’ was mentioned by a few respondents who are cognisant of the fact that some brands are trying to prove they are environmentally friendly for all the wrong reasons.

I have mixed feelings. I think lots of brands are guilty of green washing. Lots of brands have jumped on the plastic free thing bc its trendy. Its often for the wrong reasons and they’re still encouraging consumerism.- F, 22, Leading Edge, VOD:Bingers

I never trust them completely as brands these days know it’s the ‘current’ thing to be environmentally friendly so they might be changing a few production habits in order to advertise that they’re doing it but really they’re still just as bad behind closed doors – F, 19, Alternative, Pop:Socials

There is a desire from young people for brands to prove that their environmental actions are genuine and not just a PR ploy – with one calling for more advertising on the topic.

I feel that brands need to advertise it a bit more so more people are aware about them being environmentally conscious and knowing the consequences of it.

Overall I have a positive opinion of these brands, if their environmental actions seem sincere/genuine and not just a PR ploy i.e. have a detailed, dedicated infrastructural plan on how they help the environment, in how they act to minimise their negative footprint – F, 21, Mainstream, Short:Snaps

42% of young people aren’t satisfied with businesses’ efforts to care for the environment

Only 14% feel very satisfied with businesses’ efforts to care for the environment, and agree that they making a genuine effort.

“Brands are doing so much more for the environment in general. I am constantly seeing new methods and advertising to promote more eco friendly packaging and methods used by the big brands in every market” – F, 20, Aspirant, VOD:Bingers

Only 11% are satisfied with progress, but think there could be more visibility and communication of the environmental commitments businesses are engaged with.

“It seems that most brands/companies are trying now to care for the environment. Even if we can’t directly see what they are doing many of them are working ‘behind the scenes’” – F, 21, Mainstream, Pop:Socials

17% of young people feel strongly that businesses aren’t doing nearly enough, and are only making minimal, aesthetic changes for PR purposes.

“Most businesses don’t give a shit, they just do small amounts to appease the public by making their image look good. Some companies like H&M and Zara even use seriously misleading advertising to make it look like they’re being eco friendly when they’re honestly doing nothing” – M, 20, Urban, VOD:Bingers

A quarter of young people agree that there is much more to be done by businesses, and they need to focus on empowering consumers to make more eco-friendly choices.

“Businesses are more concerned with profit and power than they are with the environment. In the state out planet is now, there’s always more that can be done and there needs to be more consumer choice.” – F, 17

A third of young people sit in the middle – they agree businesses have made some progress, albeit slow, yet there is still a long road ahead.

“They are doing stuff of varying degree, but could be more proactive and innovative” F, 20, Aspirant, VOD:Bingers

Young people point to three industries where businesses aren’t dealing with environmental issues enough


“Fast fashion companies like Topshop and ASOS. So much plastic in their deliveries and free returns so lots of transport waste. Also tons of people throwing clothes away that get dumped in third world countries who end up burning then which releases tons of pollutants and harmful chemicals” – M, 20, Urban, VOD:Bingers

“I think H&M could make a bigger difference by donating to charities and becoming less of a ‘fast fashion’ brand, by having styles in stock for longer, rather than bringing out new items so often, as this encourages people to keep buying new clothes, which leads to waste.” – F, 23, Alternative, Short:Snaps


“Amazon is one of the biggest brands used all over the world by millions of customers, shipping out millions of parcels everyday, yet they still excessively overpack their products, using ridiculous amounts of cardboard and plastic packaging and paper for small tiny parcels.” F, 20, Aspirant, VOD:Bingers

“Coca-Cola are still using a large amount of plastic in their individual bottles of drink which aren’t made from recycled plastic. Also the packaging for the multipacks is a lot of waste material which could be cut down considerably. These issues are important because Coca-Cola is a huge company which sells millions of bottles per day and therefore is one of the main contributors to plastic waste” – F, 19, Mainstream, Pop:Socials

Amazon was mentioned frequently for their overuse of packaging and amount of next-day deliveries offered. Coca-Cola was also top of the list as a big polluter, with descriptions of beaches full of washed up bottles being mentioned frequently.


“A wave of car manufactures have finally decided to invest substantial amounts of money in producing electric cars over the next few years. This includes Volkswagen, Nissan and BMW to name a few. However these actions are offset by the fact that car manufactures continue to produce diesel vehicles that emit harmful nitrogen dioxide, PM10 and PM2.5 gases/chemicals.”

LandRover – stop making these gas guzzling massive cars. Almost no one needs such a big car its excessive” M, 22, Aspirant, VOD:Bingers

Over 80% of young people agree that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is highly important for big businesses

Young people aren’t afraid to take environmental action

Some young people have claimed to stop buying clothes entirely from fast fashion companies, whilst others have boycotted brands for various environmental reasons.

I’ve pretty much stopped buying from all the fast fashion companies entirely – M, 20, Urban, VOD:Bingers

I have boycotted Nutella for the use of palm oil in their product and will not buy until it has been changed for something environmentally friendly – F, 16

A few mentioned their involvement in environmental protests, particularly the recent Extinction Rebellion protests across the past few months.

I am part of Extinction Rebellion so I have done a couple of protests, some tree planting and an outreach stall. Additionally I would consider my plant based diet to be environmental action – F, 19, Aspirant, VOD:Bingers

Yes I have done protests before because I think the government need to implement radical environmental legislation. I also grow my own food – F, 22, Leading Edge, VOD:Bingers

Whilst some young people spoke about their involvement in environmental activism (e.g. protesting or boycotting brands), this is not representative of all young people. When asked whether they have ever taken environmental action, the majority of young people spoke about the personal effort they make in their day-to-day activities to care for the environment e.g. trying to limit their water usage and food wastage, recycling more, no longer buying single-use plastics or only buying reusable items, changing their diet to be more sustainable (e.g. vegetarianism/veganism) – rather than actively boycotting brands or attending protests.

“I have not actively taken part in anything outside of changing my day-to-day habits. I did go vegan a number of years ago, and one of my motivations for the change was the environmental impact. So, I think that that is the main way I care for the environment. And I try to be vegan also throughout life, so when buying clothes, cleaning products, creams etc.” – F, 20, Mainstream, Pop:Socials