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A Tipping Point for Sustainability & Millennials?

Much has been written about the attitudes of Generation Y (or more commonly, Millennials) towards sustainability, from the role it plays in which companies are attractive to work for to how brands can really engage with millennials on the topic in a way that truly resonates.

Recently, I have come across a great example of a website created by millennials for millennials who aim to face the challenge of meaningful engagement head-on. Teens Turning Green is a Bay Area organization that bills itself as “a collaborative youth movement to change the world.” Any thoughts of dismissing this claim as the lofty aspiration borne of youthful naivety quickly evaporate as you discover what an incredibly comprehensive, smart and buttoned-up site – and organization – this is. Teens Turning Green takes a lifestyle approach, with a heavy focus on food and fashion and is overtly positive in its approach. Furthermore, it’s all about taking action. As was noted in a recent report on Sustainablebrands.com, millennials are more likely to pay for responsibly-made products, more likely to support stricter environmental laws and more open to find alternative transportation to cars; in short, more likely to act sustainably.

I was very interested to hear of this week’s launch of a website with similar aspirations to Teens Turning Green but with the potential, perhaps, to effect change on a much larger scale. Collectively.org is a non-profit digital platform specifically for millennials with the backing of some serious big businesses including Carlsberg, Unilever, BT Group, the Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, and Marks and Spencer. However, any fears that this is an elaborate PR exercise in sustainability for these companies should be allayed by the fact that the forum has been developed in partnership with Purpose and Forum for the Future, two highly respected foundations with proven track records of driving social change. While Collectively might be on a different scale to Teens Turning Green, it shares the same belief that it’s important to inspire action positively, focusing on what can be done rather than presenting a bleak outlook. As Jonathan Porritt of Forum for the Future told The Guardian, there’s a realization that millennials don’t want a daily dose of depressing environmental news, and instead there should be a focus on “a very different impulse: unconstrained excitement at the rising surge of brilliant organizations and people already crafting the solutions to today’s converging crises.”

Where Collectively differs most from Teens Turning Green is the absence of more traditional “green / environmental” language. The Collectively website is crisp, sophisticated and could easily be that of an aspirational fashion magazine or art forum. Indeed, alongside energy and food, art makes up a substantial part of the content. I’ve spoken often about the need for sustainability initiatives not to be add-ons, or afterthoughts for them to be truly effective, and here sustainability is woven into the fabric of the content seamlessly. You don’t have to self-identify as an environmentalist to be interested in this content, the attraction for many – as Jonathan Porritt suggested – will be in the brilliant thinking and innovation.

In Collectively, the digital native generation that is the millennials may now have the opportunity to put the real power of the internet to action in the most positive way possible – and potentially provide invaluable insights for driving more sustainable behaviors in other demographics. I can’t wait to find out.

For more reading on this topic, please click here.

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