Sustainability is playing an increasingly larger role in the lives of young consumers, particularly among Millennials (born 1981-1996) and Generation Z (born 1997 and after). This trend is expected to continue as Gen Z consumers enter the workforce and start setting up their own households.
As a result, the Paper and Packaging Board’s “How Life Unfolds” Campaign® is launching a new sustainability-focused effort to more appealing to young consumers.
“As our consumer audience begins to age up, we need to keep reaching out to younger generations with important sustainability messaging,” explains Mary Anne Hansan, president of the Paper and Packaging Board. “They are worried about the environment, have heard stories about recycling not being worthwhile and have misperceptions about the health of U.S. forests. That’s why we’ve created a campaign set to reach a younger audience with content that is both entertaining and educational.”
The new effort is based in part on findings from The Hartman Group’s “Sustainability 2019: Beyond Business as Usual” study of American consumers aged 18-73. Researchers found that sustainability is “a cultural value and defining concern for today’s consumer,” and that “consumers increasingly hold companies and governments responsible for sustainability than individuals,” even as they adjust their own behaviors to lessen their personal environmental footprint.
In fact, 51 percent of respondents said that the environment is the main reason they purchase sustainable or socially responsible products. That’s up 19 percentage points from 2017.
Among the survey respondents, young consumers were more likely than older consumers to change their lifestyle to live in a more environmentally sustainable way, even as they expect corporations and governments to do a better job of addressing large-scale issues of waste, pollution and climate change.
The survey showed that young consumers are more likely to:
- Choose products with package seals and certifications claiming sustainability
- Shop with sustainability, social issues or labor practices in mind
- Align with brands that reduce air/water pollution, maintain natural habitats, reduce corporate impact and practice community involvement
- Avoid products with excessive packaging
- Select products with recyclable or biodegradable packaging or packaging made with recycled content
- Choose sustainable products even if it means spending a bit more money
But despite a desire to shop sustainably, only 15 percent of respondents felt they could identify a sustainable company, and just 22 percent thought they could identify a sustainable product. In addition, a whopping 84 percent of respondents said they approach manufacturers’ sustainability claims with some degree of skepticism.
When corporate claims aren’t enough, where can consumers turn for reliable information about a company’s environmental commitment and sustainability record? Gen Z and Millennial consumers depend on social media and online sources, and they rely on experts, journalists and third-party organizations to provide trusted information about company policies and actions.
Research Drives the Paper and Packaging Board’s Campaign
In addition to referencing the Hartman Group’s findings, the Paper and Packaging Board conducted its own research as it designed the new sustainability-focused initiative, which now includes a new microsite (PaperForNature.com), videos, digital banners, social media content and much more.
The effort is designed to appeal to young consumers — those who are most likely to consume and trust online content — and educate them about the sustainability of the paper and packaging industry. But it also targets a broader category of consumers aged 18-49, which includes Gen X, Millennial and Gen Z shoppers.
The Paper and Packaging Board found that this growing group of 50 million consumers, dubbed Expressives, is the biggest category of paper and packaging users. Yet, even though they prefer paper packaging to plastic by a 2:1 margin and avoid plastic packaging by a 4:1 margin, they feel some guilt about their paper consumption. They also have misperceptions about the size and health of our nation’s forests, with 58 percent believing that forests in the United States are shrinking and 61 percent believing they are more fragile when the opposite is true.
The Paper and Packaging Board also found that educating these consumers about our industry’s commitments to sustainable forestry, eco-friendly product innovations and environmentally responsible manufacturing processes dramatically increases their belief that paper, paper-based packaging and corrugated cardboard boxes are part of the environmental solution, rather than part of the problem.
In addition, research shows that vibrant animation and strategic use of digital platforms, such as TikTok and YouTube, appeal to young consumers, making it more likely that they will experience and react positively to the campaign’s important messaging.
“In order to stand out from all the brands and industries professing sustainability, we created a world that would appeal to both the young and young at heart — a world awash in color and optimism where we can show consumers that their choices matter,” says Hansan. “Ultimately, we want them to know that when they choose and recycle paper and paper-based packaging, they are a force for nature.”
Visit the Paper For Nature microsite today to see how the new initiative promotes the paper and packaging industry’s ongoing and growing commitment to sustainability.
More on sustainability and young consumers:
- Sustainability Drives Consumer Behavior, Career Choices Among Young People
- Millennials Embrace Sustainability and the Environment
- Sustainable Forestry Tour: Educating the Social Media Generation
- Summer Internship Program Attracts Fresh Talent and Perspective