Skip to Content

Saving money or saving the planet: Gen Z’s new struggle

Gen Z has for long been in the driver’s seat when it comes to the sustainability revolution, but with the cost-of-living crisis, those who are the more willing to act and change the future of the planet are now also the ones who can least afford it.

Jennifer Pinto Senior Executive 09/02/2023
This generation has seen its levels of spending drastically impacted by inflation – more than the other generations - resulting in a third willing to sacrifice sustainability to combat higher prices.

Often described as the “climate change generation”, Gen Z have grown up with a greater awareness of environmental issues and may be more inclined to take action to protect the planet.

In a 2021 poll in the US, 37% of Gen Z’ers stated climate change was a top concern, with almost a third (32%) declaring that they took at least one action to help to address climate change. Though not specific to the UK, the findings demonstrate that this generation are generally more prone to have sustainability in mind when making purchasing decisions.

Is sustainability still at the top of Gen Z’s priorities?

Even though the cost-of-living crisis has changed priorities across all generations, the younger generations have been the most affected by this turmoil.

Data from State of the Youth Nation, our market-leading Gen Z tracker, revealed that 4 in 10 Gen Z’ers in the UK state that the cost-of-living crisis is already impacting their lives. Since June 2022, the importance of the cost of living overran the importance of climate change – a first for this generation since June 2017.

Our latest Sustainability Segmentation report found that climate change is still among the top three concerns for 18-24s (19%) in the UK, but the cost-of-living crisis is even more top of mind, with 32% seeing it as the most significant challenge nowadays, heavily impacting this generation’s shopping behaviours.

While Gen Z seem to be more inclined than their elders to make a financial effort to spend more sustainably on categories such as transport, technologies, eating out or groceries, when it comes to grocery more specifically, only a few are actually acting on it. Why are their intentions so strong but their actions aren’t so far?

Lacking the financial autonomy to properly make a difference?

Today, more than half of UK consumers claim they are adopting some form of sustainable behaviours in their everyday life.

Gen Z is the most likely to shout about sustainability, boycott a brand or product that they consider not meeting their ethical standards, or donate to a charity supporting sustainable efforts. They are also the most likely to buy organic or sustainably sourced products.

However, this generation has seen its levels of spending drastically impacted by inflation – more than the other generations – resulting in a third willing to sacrifice sustainability to combat higher prices. When people are struggling to afford necessities, the focus shifts to finding the most affordable options, even if they are not as environmentally friendly.

Could brands have a role to play in helping this generation?

Last year, 85% of young people said they wanted to share ideas and experiences with brands to develop better ethical solutions. Collaboration is key to having a better understanding of this audience that desperately wants its voice to be heard.

Numerous are the brands that are already trying to reduce their environmental impact. The most common actions include implementing sustainable packaging practices, partnering with organisations that promote sustainability, or providing product information about the environmental and social impact to help customers make more informed decisions about their purchases.

Here are three ways brands can tackle the cost issue affecting the younger generations.

  1. Offering repair and reuse options to help Gen Z extend the life of their products and reduce waste.
  2. Similarly, having a wider range of prices for sustainable products could help this “climate change generation” to find affordable options that still align with their values.
  3. Offering rental or subscription-based options to help Gen Z access products on a pay-as-you-go basis, rather than having to make a large upfront purchase.

Gen Z is more willing than ever before to embrace sustainable behaviours and ensure that their future and the planet’s survival are not at risk. They have grown up in an era of climate change and environmental awareness, which has led them to be more conscientious about their lifestyle choices. As a result, brands have been forced to adapt or risk losing out on a generation of loyal customers – what are brands willing to do to help them make more sustainable decisions?


For a comprehensive segmentation of sustainable behaviours, download our latest Sustainability Segmentation report. To find out more on what makes Gen Z tick in today’s ever-changing economic context, read more on State of the Youth Nation.



Knowledge centre

Read More