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The Impact of Generation Y

A recent article by Gwynne Rogers, senior business director at the Natural Marketing Institute on the Guardian Sustainable Leadership Hub, has identified the impact of those born between 1977- 1998 also know as Generation Y.

This demographic has been considered to be "born green" because they grew up in a society where eco-consciousness was becoming a norm, and often to baby boomer parents who founded the environmental movement. Until now, boomers have dominated the sustainable marketplace, both in terms of attitudes and spending as many had the disposable income necessary to buy pricier green products.

However the Generation Y demographic is now impacting on the consumer marketplace. Marketers are looking at this group as a potential goldmine as they shop for products as they will shape the consumption of eco- friendly products and provide social currency. Rogers quotes that the percentage of Generation Y who report that they "buy as many green/eco-friendly products as they can" is up to 36% in 2012 from 31% in 2009. This is a 16% growth rate during some tough economic times, according to our survey of 4,000 US adults. One category that is seeing this growth is the natural/organic personal care market (haircare and skincare etc) – 39% of Generation Y report purchasing such a product in 2012 versus just 27% in 2009.

Boomers, and the older generation before them, still care significantly more about issues ranging from workers' rights to women's issues to protecting the environment. Older generations still lead in behaviours such as conserving water or carrying a reusable coffee mug. However, the disparity isn't as big as it used to be, nor is it as universal. Generation Y is showing increased aptitude across numerous dimensions, particularly a willingness to pay for sustainable products and interest in premium sustainable products (for instance, Aveda, Patagonia, or retailers like Viva Terra and Bambeco). That interest is up nearly 20% over the past six years.

While Generation Y previously had only lukewarm engagement with the sustainability marketplace, as their income has risen and they start families (often a kick-starter for exploring natural and sustainable products), their green product purchases are increasing. For instance, more than a third now say they buy as many eco-friendly products as they can, up from just a quarter five years ago. As their life stage continues to shift to the phase of heaviest consumption, this trend could speed up significantly, and have major implications for manufacturers. Generation Y consumers have decades of purchase decisions ahead of them. Understanding what makes this consumer group tick is an investment that will pay off for businesses for years to come.

At a recent Exeter Business Leaders Forum  (June 2015), Deborah Meaden stressed the importance of managing this generation in your workforce.