Millennials, the catch-all term for those reaching adulthood in the early 21st century, are a much-maligned bunch. They’re overly sensitive, some say, or overly hostile. They’re addicted to technology, hedonistic, vain. Type “millennials are” into Google, and your suggestions will include “lazy”, “stupid” and “boring”.
Such sweeping statements tends to make better copy to pick at perceived faults than celebrate good qualities. Millennials, most honest observers would agree, are adventurous, collaborative, open-minded and passionate. They’re independent, prosocial and idealistic. And these qualities, like it or not, are rubbing off on those around them. Perhaps no more clearly can this be seen than in the effect this generation is having on cities in the developing world.
Millennials have grown up in the age in which climate change and its exacerbation by human beings is a verifiable fact, not a contested point. And because of this they are almost instinctively environmentally conscious, paying extra for sustainable products despite their financial insecurity. Millennials, studies show, are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Almost nine out of 10 Britons aged between 16 and 34 believe it is important for corporations to take care of the environment. One magazine reported that even luxury hotels are “going green” to accommodate Millennial demands.
And of course, this is changing cities. Where there is demand, there is supply, and cities that offer more sustainable lifestyles will attract Millennials with increasing purchasing power and labour to give. Vancouver, Canada, London, England, and Austin, Texas are all getting greener. Peter Madden, chief executive of Future Cities Catapult, told the Financial Times that “the greenest cities correlate quite well with economically successful cities”, citing Bristol, Edinburgh and Brighton. Shopping districts contain more stores selling sustainable products, restaurants are serving more vegan and vegetarian options, and small- and medium-sized cities are investing in green spaces and parks in a bid to attract Millennials. The author of one article wrote that “second cities are becoming the first choice” for this section of society, due to their efforts to strengthen their green credentials.
The future of the consumer market
And we can expect this to accelerate as the purchasing power of the Millennial generation increases. For the time being, Millennials control the future of the consumer market, which means that organisations who don’t prioritise their interests risk falling behind those that do. Struggling sectors in particular have no choice but to go green. Retailers, for instance, have become increasingly vociferous in their attempts to persuade young people of their green credentials; nevertheless, says Lord Malloch-Brown, chairman of the Global Commission on Business and Sustainable Development, “we will see higher rates of corporate mortality in the next 20 or 30 years.”
And few industries seem to be able to escape the trend. Millennial woman have been reported to use more green beauty products, and companies have emerged to exploit the change. Even the fast-food outlet Subway is offering more plant-based options. Beer companies, coffee shops and Wal-Mart, a company which has drawn the ire of environmentalists in the past, have announced their intentions to be more environmentally friendly. Coca-Cola; Dell; Target. It is fast becoming a business imperative to go green.
Not going away
Despite the best efforts of a handful of detractors, the move towards greener living is not going away. The data are in, the science is sound; Millennials, at least, are convinced, and will not be changing their minds. Research is showing that cities with more green spaces have less crime, higher property prices, and bestow physical and mental health benefits on their inhabitants. And, what’s more, as other generations numbed to the noise and pollution of the city come to experience the advantages of living in cleaner air and a more eco-conscious, sustainable environment, they too will catch the bug and begin to make demands of their own.
What we are seeing, then, in the efforts of city administrators and business leaders to be greener, are the results of a trend that is still only in its infancy. It’s no surprise that one newspaper talked of a Big Green Bang, and the possibilities in the future are almost limitless: there is serious talk of vertical farming, high-rise buildings covered in vegetation, self-contained biospheres and garden bridges. And that mostly fails to take into account the ideas that Millennials, those most passionate about the protection of the environment, will themselves develop as they mature, deepen their knowledge and expand their skillsets.