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Half of Millennials and Gen Z Will Abandon Unsustainable Purchases

If brands and retailers want to appeal to millennials and Gen Z, it’s go green or bust.

The state of the planet is a vital concern for younger shoppers, according to a new Drapers study, which polled 2,000 people between ages 18 to 38. More than three-quarters (76.7 percent) of respondents said they think it’s “very” or “quite” important for brands to show they are environmentally sustainable.

The numbers stayed “pretty consistent” for every age range, Drapers noted, although slightly more men (39.6 percent) rated sustainability as “very” important than women (32.8 percent). Overall, only 6.6 percent of respondents described sustainability as a “not very” salient concern.

Such stewardship concerns inform purchasing decisions, too. Nearly half (48 percent) of those surveyed said they have decided against a purchase because a brand or retailer doesn’t fit with their values. This compulsion was strongest among 18-to-24-year-olds, 55 percent of whom admitted to abandoning purchases. Men are also more likely than women (54 percent versus 44 percent) to fail to complete purchases, according to Drapers.

Nearly half of those polled said they “actively hunt” out brands that are sustainable, which means conventional companies—even those with one-off “eco-friendly” offerings—are likely ceding sales to retailers that incorporate sustainability as part of their holistic ethos.

“This supports the theory that demand for sustainable products…may be invisible to some retailers at the moment,” the authors of the report wrote, “because rather than buying sustainable ranges from otherwise non-sustainable brands, shoppers are using their time and money to look for brands that align more comprehensively with their values.”

Indeed, Google searches for the term “sustainable fashion” have steadily increased worldwide over the past five years, Drapers said, with the biggest spikes occurring in Australia, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Hong Kong and Singapore. In Britain alone, searches for “sustainable fashion brands” have surged 450 percent since January 2016.

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“Retailers such as U.S. brands Everlane and Reformation are popular related terms, and both have experienced large rises in search volumes over a similar period,” the report noted.

While there remains a gap between “what people say they are doing, and what they are actually doing”—meaning that sales are still catching up to values—this growing enthusiasm for sustainability is something brands and retailers should not ignore, Drapers warned.

“With comparatively few sustainable options available, it is also still hard for a customer to make sure their purchasing behavior reflects their values,” the study’s authors wrote. “They may still be shopping unsustainably because choice is limited.”