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Buy now, save the planet later: Why gen Zers are swapping sustainability for spending

You know how gen Zers are often considered to be one of the most climate conscious generations of all time? Well, that may no longer be 100 per cent accurate. According to experts, sustainability is potentially on its way out, and while saving the planet is definitely still on the to-do list, it might be experiencing a slight dip in importance.

At the beginning of the year, market research company GWI released a series of trend forecasts for 2023. The ‘Connecting the Dots’ report looked at the shopping habits and perceptions of the web from more than 950,000 consumers worldwide.

What became abundantly clear is that the combination of the COVID-19 pandemic, political instability, cost of living crisis and general global chaos has officially left young people deflated and tired with constantly hearing it’s up to them to make changes for the environment.

Now, this of course isn’t to say that gen Zers have become completely disinterested in saving the world. We are still one of the most passionate groups when it comes to combating climate change. I mean, we all remember the iconic tomato soup x Van Gogh incident. However, it’s true that for some of us, global events have detrimentally impacted the way we prioritise our lives and everyday actions.

One of the major insights the trend forecast displayed is the fact that in every country the company tracked, the number of people saying they would rather sacrifice other spending to buy a product sooner continually grew between 2020 and 2022. Meanwhile, expectations for brands to be eco-friendly and sustainable fell.

It might seem flippant to use the phrase “buy now, save the planet later,” but I think that for a lot of young people, it reflects a fatigue and defeatist attitude so salient at the moment. Why spend all of your time fighting to change the world when, in reality, there are so many crucial issues you’ll never be able to conquer? You might as well distract yourself with capitalism. In other words, countless young people are starting to realise that it isn’t on them to clean up the mess of Big Oil.

Similarly, we’re living in a time period where it’s increasingly difficult to unhook yourself from the latest global news or pressing social issues. Current affairs dominate almost every aspect of our lives. And it’s not as though social media can provide any kind of respite either, when platforms like TikTok are massive purveyors of news.

In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, over the past few years, the share of US adults who say they regularly get news from TikTok has tripled from 3 per cent in 2020 to 10 per cent in 2022.

Being constantly inundated with discourse that reeks with doomism takes its toll. And, from what we can see the mental and political bandwidths of gen Zers is suffering in the face of late-stage capitalism trying to force the need to change onto us, rather than the private jet flying, oil lobbying elite.

Further insight from the GWI report showed that two in five young consumers make regular impulse purchases. Growing up in a money-obsessed society, we’ve been constantly bombarded with the idea that if you’re feeling sad, all you need to do is give into your shopping urges and all of a sudden, you’ll feel better. It’s a toxic cycle that even some of the most strong-willed activists can’t perpetually avoid.

Oh, and on top of all this, us gen Zers love holibobs. According to recent data, just over half of gen Z adults (52 per cent) are frequent travellers, meaning they took at least three leisure trips in the past year. That share is significantly larger than it is for higher-earning gen Xers and baby boomers, and it’s on par with millennials, who are currently the focus of the industry.

We’re in no way trying to underplay the role air travel has on global pollution. But it’s also fair to say that vacations aren’t yet something we’re completely willing to sacrifice.

All this to say, sustainability will always be a cornerstone of generation Z. However, with everything that’s happened in the world over the past few years, it’s also understandable that every now and again, we indulge in some retail therapy we could later regret.

From ancient printers to stubborn scanners, office machines are giving gen Z serious tech shame

Gen Zers like myself are finally entering the workforce. And while we’ve all quickly adapted to the office’s specific brand of oat milk, and the best bike route, what our generation of chronically-online, social media-savvy employees weren’t accounting for, is all of the ghastly and archaic technology left over from the 90s and early 00s.

I’m of course talking about machines like the daunting and imposing photocopier, or the printer that sits neglected, making whirring noises as though it’s threatening to explode every time someone reaches for the ‘on’ button.

Moving away from the safety and comfort of a Google Docs link or an AirDrop is a genuinely scary step to take when approaching your new office job. And apparently, this is a genuine symptom of a generation that has been praised as ‘tech-savvy’ and ‘digitally native’ their whole lives. Sure, content creators like Corporate Natalie help the transition, but it’s not always a smooth ride.

Garrett Bemiller, a 25-year-old New Yorker who works as a publicist, told The Guardian that “things like scanners and copy machines are complicated,” and shared that the first time he had to copy something in the office, he found himself having to reattempt several times. Luckily, veteran office workers quickly came to his aid.

Sarah Dexter, associate professor of education at the University of Virginia, told the publication that “there is a myth that kids were born into an information age, and that this all comes intuitively to them.” In reality, we’re not the all-knowing tech gods that so many millennials and gen Xers expect us to be—we still need to be taught how to use things.

The main difference is that we were brought up in an age of extreme user-friendly tech. There is a certain degree of intuitiveness that comes from being so familiar with the internet and apps, but this doesn’t always translate to a long stagnant office culture dynamic—one that seems to so often be living in the past.

Desktop computing is far less instinctive than the mobile, social world that gen Zers roam. It’s true that loud office computers and dense file systems are daunting for the information age.

This one is somewhat embarrassing, but a lot of us don’t seem to understand buttons either. You can’t swipe this computer screen open, as one Reddit user had to make evidently clear with the implementation of a sticker to point out the ‘on’ switch on-screen:

I was told that Gen Z are supposed to be tech savvy… After far too many calls, I finally had to spell it out for them.
by u/mowikn in Sysadminhumor

The struggle to adapt to the office environment was given a name by tech giant HP in a survey from November 2022. Dubbed ‘Tech Shame’ by the company, the research found that young people were far more likely to experience embarrassment over tech illiteracy or even a dodgy Wi-Fi connection than their more mature peers.

Debbie Irish, HP’s head of human resources in the UK and Ireland told WorkLife that the amount of shame younger colleagues experience may be a result of things like a lack of disposable income to afford better hardware and internet, versus older more seasoned employees, who are more likely to have higher wages. This divide between the old and the new may be why quiet quitting was such a prevalent trend in 2022.

Hybrid working is part of the problem, and needless to say, our time out of the office as a result of the global pandemic (remember that?) have made office tech seem even more alien to us.

Accessibility is taken for granted today thanks to the apps we find ourselves trapped in. Max Simon, corporate life content creator, told The Guardian that “it takes five seconds to learn how to use TikTok, you don’t need an instruction book, like you would with a printer.”

There is a clear divide between our paperless tech literacy and the physical machines we may encounter in our office jobs. We’ve been made shy because of the emphasis that is placed on us as tech-savvy, when in reality, we just know how to use google to solve our problems. It won’t be long before AI has us all out of the door anyway.