Match of the Day is celebrating its 50th anniversary on English TV this season, and for the first time in 22 years it is without Alan Hansen, who famously predicted in 1995 that Manchester United couldn’t “win anything with kids”. They went on to win the Premier League and FA Cup that season.
Perhaps the sustainability movement too is on the verge of winning with kids. Generation Z – those born since Hansen’s prediction, who are now becoming consumers, employees and voters – have grown up with sustainability issues and causes on their screens and in their headphones. Every ice bucket challenge they do, every no-makeup selfie they take, every Chipotle film they watch makes them more aware of social and environmental issues than previous generations. And acutely aware of the impact of their sustainability choices on their personal brands, brands they’re adept at managing on Facebook, Instagram and the rest. Posting their ice bucket challenges and no make-up selfies says how they want to be seen – part of an in-crowd that is seen to care about these things.
So as this generation starts consuming, businesses have to respond to their concerns and be relevant to the personal brands by which they define themselves. Primark can’t afford to be seen to be taking advantage of garment workers down the supply chain for fear that choosing Primark will be seen as tainting their new consumers’ personal brands. The younger generation has proved itself “promiscuous in its brand loyalty”, as McDonald’s chief brand officer Steve Easterbrook recently commented after results showed the chain losing younger customers to the likes of Chipotle. Employers need to demonstrate they are socially responsible if they are to attract the best young talent. How else to explain Unilever being the third most searched employer on Linked-In after Google and Apple other than the fact that it is seen as the world’s most progressive sustainability company?
And perhaps most encouragingly of all, a young generation that cares about sustainability can finally be mobilised to vote, turning back years of voter apathy (see chart below). Generation Z is proving itself capable of mobilisation around sustainability issues in how it shops and what it shares. Savvy politicians are realising there are fresh votes to be had by pledging action on the sustainability issues that can mobilise this new generation.
Progress on sustainability comes from a range of linked sources: from regulation by government to innovation in business and choices by investors. All of these can be driven towards positive change by this emerging, engaged generation. When it comes to sustainability, you can win with kids.