Gen Z Adults Are the Least Trusting of Brands’ Sustainability Claims

November 1, 2022

Almost 8 in 10 adults in the US are not sure what the term “greenwashing” means, according to new research [download page] on consumers’ attitudes to sustainability from Morning Consult. However, some are skeptical of brands’ sustainability claims, and that skepticism is particularly high among Gen Z adults.

A recent study found that almost 1 in 4 adults in the US don’t believe brands’ sustainability claims. This latest survey comes to a similar conclusion, with 20% of respondents saying that they generally don’t trust that products or services marked as sustainable are actually sustainable.

That figure jumps to 28% among Gen Z respondents, with no other generation breaking the 20% skepticism mark. Likewise, although 6 in 10 adults surveyed said that products or services marked as sustainable are probably (49%) or definitely (11%) sustainable, only a slim majority (52%) of Gen Z adults agreed.

It’s possible that this greater skepticism arises from a sense among younger adults that they have more to lose than their older counterparts. Examining the impacts of climate change, older adults are far less likely than younger respondents to believe they’ll be harmed. For example, among Baby Boomers, the net perception of personal harm from climate change (share who say they will be harmed by climate change minus the share who say they won’t be) stands at a mere 3% points. For both Gen Zers and Millennials that figure is at a vastly higher 42% points.

Brands Bear Some Responsibility

Brands have a sizable role to play in sustainability efforts, per the report. Some 36% feel that brands are somewhat (20%) or much (16%) more responsible for sustainability than consumers, against just 14% who feel that consumers are somewhat (9%) or much (5%) more responsible. Overall, though, a plurality (41%) believe that brands and consumers are equally responsible, while the remaining 9% don’t feel that either group are.

Brands in some industries appear to be held to a higher standard than others. In particular, 40% feel that brands in the Automotive and Mobility sector are more responsible than consumers for sustainability, including 21% who feel that they are much more responsible.

An above-average share also feel that brands in the Technology and Healthcare industries bear more responsibility than consumers.

Other Findings:

  • Education level is a strong indicator of familiarity with sustainability terms such as “climate change,” “energy conservation,” “renewable resources,” and “carbon footprint.”
  • The higher the income level, the more likely consumers are to believe that products or services marked as sustainable are actually sustainable.
  • About half of adults give themselves an A (15%) or B (34%) grade for their sustainability efforts in the past year, while just 18% give the average US corporation the same grades.
  • Almost 7 in 10 adults are somewhat or very likely to consider purchasing or using a product or service from a company in the Food & Beverage industry if it prioritized sustainability, the highest of any sector.
  • Sustainability tends to be more important to consumers in industries they are regularly involved with, such as Food & Beverage, Technology, and Automotive & Mobility.

About the Data: The results are based on a July survey of 2,210 US adults.

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