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

By Charlie Sawyer

Published Apr 22, 2023 at 09:00 AM

Reading time: 2 minutes

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.

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