Attitudes vs. Actions: Where Do We Stand?

I am thankful to have spent the past 4 years of my undergrad studying and working with some of the most engaging and inspiring people. Bouncing ideas off of like-minded students every day has definitely helped me keep a positive attitude on the progress we are trying to make a reality, regardless of looming environmental issues on the horizon and how hopeless we sometimes feel. Generally-speaking, we are a pretty active and involved bunch, which is characteristic for the Millennial Generation – a cohort of diverse, well-educated young people with strong, value-driven expectations shaping our career and life aspirations.

Not too long ago, it was proposed that our generation has shifted from the concept of buying things to own things to buying into new ideas and experiences – a generation that revolves around less ‘stuff’. We are taking some established businesses by surprise with our purchasing habits. We’re demanding products and services that value corporate social responsibility and allow us to connect with the brands at an emotional level. We are the first generation to grow up almost entirely with technology, and this has definitely influenced the way we define ownership. Is it truly a shift in consumption habits for a better future or just the result of our current economic climate?

It turns out that this decrease in ownership of material goods does not necessarily equal greener consumption habits. While many studies have shown that Generation Y cares for the environment and considers it a high-priority issue, taking action is another story. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology released a report that supports the Generation Me hypothesis – that our Gen-Yers value money, image and fame over self-acceptance, community and the environment. Only 21% of Millennials think it is important to be personally involved in efforts to clean up the environment, compared to a higher percentage of Baby Boomers and Generation Xers. Millennials are less interested in politics, social and environmental issues than their previous generations. While we are well-educated and aware, we are much less likely to be actively engaged, with 15% of Millennials responding that they make no effort to help the environment, compared to 5% of Boomers. Hanks et al surveyed Millennials at universities across the United States about their concerns around global warming. To their surprise, 51% of respondents answered they were ‘somewhat’ worried, while 25.5% answered ‘not very much’. Even among the most worried people, a high level of awareness did not translate into greener purchasing behaviours (buying sustainable design products or used items vs. new ones) or responsible waste disposal.

 Instead, Millennials seem to be placing the pressure on the business sector to solve our toughest environmental challenges. While we are louder than we have ever been (thanks to the internet and social networking) and have created a large, expansive community of environmental leaders, we still have a lot of work to do. That mindset needs to change. We all have a role in cleaning up this mess and changing behaviour will be one of the biggest challenges. Our quality of life has become so far entrenched in convenience that it takes an overwhelming power to get people to change their habits – especially when the better choice sometimes requires a little more elbow grease. We are a well-educated generation and well-aware of the issues, we’re just too apathetic and that needs to change.

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