Under the Influence of Gen Z: The Sustainability Generation

November 04, 2022

Amyris brought together an intergenerational panel of leading voices from Gen Z, forward-thinking consumer brands, experienced climate experts and an NGO to discuss the pivotal issues that matter to this generation

In partnership with Climate Action, a London-based non-profit that has been working at the intersection of climate change policy, innovation and finance for over 15 years, Amyris last week hosted a virtual event: Under the Influence of Gen Z: The Sustainability Generation, moderated by Sophia Kianni, a UN Youth Ambassador, climate entrepreneur and public speaker whose January TED Talk on climate action has already garnered more than 1.6 million views.

Amyris brought together an intergenerational panel of leading voices from Gen Z, forward-thinking consumer brands, experienced climate experts and an NGO to discuss the pivotal issues that matter to this generation and ask how these emerging voices are transforming the corporate and political agendas to demand action to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (equivalent to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

We are already 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and have been steadily heating up for the last four decades. Faced with the stark reality that with each half of degree increase comes more extreme weather with more intensity over longer durations, this generation of vocal climate activists, ‘informed consumers’, and climate literate ‘digital natives’, are demanding immediate and authentic corporate and national action.

Watch the full event. Excerpts here:

Sophia Kianni (moderator), Executive Director of Climate Cardinals and the youngest member on the UN Secretary-General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change 

“Especially for young people, we have such a responsibility to vote. Voter turnout among young people has been abysmal in a lot of cases. …If we really do want to see action, it comes from a systemic level. It’s great to see what corporates are doing, but also our government and political processes are going to play a huge role and be hugely influential as well.”

Shilla Kim-Parker, CEO & Co-Founder, Thrilling 

“Gen Z is the leading moral heartbeat of our nation leading the way on so many important social causes. Not just climate, but also gun control and women’s rights. Gen Z also has $360 billion of spending power, so businesses are paying attention for good reason.

We unfortunately have developed kind of a disposable relationship with clothes, clothing has become easily replaceable, cheap. And most folks, unfortunately, wear clothes a few times and we end up either throwing them away or donating them and unfortunately, up to 80% of donations ends up in landfills. And make to make matters worse, most of our clothes are not biodegradable. There’s a lot of plastic in our clothing now. And this does not even touch human rights issues that exist up and down the production chain for apparel.

It’s going to take a broad coalition to really advance change at the scale and the pace that we really, urgently need. I don’t think the onus should rest solely with the consumer.

I think we’re going to have to seriously grapple with the idea that endless growth is not necessarily sustainable for people on planet.“

Smita Shankar, Formerly SVP of BioManufacturing, Impossible Foods 

“We’ve kind of paved that path for thinking differently… it gets scientists, engineers, people thinking innovatively about new ways of doing things and then finding ways to make it economically feasible, because that’s the only true way to disrupt the business as usual.

We can’t preach to people. We have to create products that are just as good and we have to give consumers choice.

This is not a trend like someone wanting to wear bell bottoms in the 60s. Gen Z is inheriting a planet that’s in trouble. This is an existential problem they really want to solve. And they are incentivized to really hold our generation accountable and say, “What are you doing? How are you solving these problems?”

One thing we learned from a lot of our consumer studies was what consumers care about when it comes to food. Taste, price, accessibility, those are the three top things. “I want this to taste really good. I want to be able to afford it. And I want to be able to find it.”

Those were the things we went after at Impossible Foods.”

Anne Myong, President of Consumer, Amyris 

“I think a large part of this industry is just ensuring that you build a longer-term relationship with the consumer, and particularly the Gen Z [consumer].

You need to offer something that is delightful. It’s a great customer experience. It’s accessible from a price point. But it also something that allows you to shop your values.

That’s something that’s important for us at Amyris – we can’t forget that we’re all consumers. And we love to consume, but we want to consume responsibly, and we want to know its source.

We want to be able to trace the supply chain all the way back. We want transparency…We need to be able to understand where things come from, where they’re made, how they’re made, where the raw materials come from, and the impact on the entire ecosystem.

As a block of consumers, the purchasing power of Gen Z is huge. And there’s nothing that’s going to get the attention of corporations more quickly than that. And coupled with just the savviness of the generation around social media and providing feedback, and making voices heard, what you like, what you don’t like, feedback on products – these are all incredibly powerful tools that this generation has and just knows natively.

I would just continue [to encourage Gen Z] to use every means and every lever to speak your truth. There’s no time to waste.

What I love about this generation is there’s no waiting and there’s very much a directness about what you want.

[We need to be] educating about why the ingredients that don’t take from nature are as good or even better for you and for the planet. And so, sharing the science, sharing how it’s made, sharing the impact, that if you make this choice, how it’s better for the planet, how it actually saves the lives of animals, by making this choice.

As a consumer, if you make a better choice, it does have a positive impact.”

Andrew Winston, climate and sustainability expert, author of Net Positive 

“One of the critical things that really needs to happen going forward is just a different level of collaboration and partnership. We’re not going to solve big problems like climate change unless we’re working together. And I think that means businesses working with government and with civil society. And organizations like WWF are critical for convening and bringing people together and having these hard conversations about changing big systems. And I think these things are finally moving some of the hardest challenges. Companies are coming together, finally, to ask the big questions about how to decarbonize. It’s early, there’s a long way to go.

People say, “Well, Gen Z is going save us, they’re going tackle climate.” That’s unfair on many levels. And, they don’t have the power yet. They can now vote, which is critical, but they’re not running companies, they’re not in charge. So, they must apply pressure as buyers of products as, as voters, as employees. I think maybe most of all, where do you go work as a Gen Z? Where will you put your time and energy? And make it clear that you won’t go to a company that that doesn’t have its values in line that isn’t doing the right thing.

I think there’s more bluntness to younger workers. They will speak truth to executives, and they should continue doing that. I think they’re part of the reason you see change.

Now, the leaders are doing very cool things. They’re setting big goals. They’re trying to tackle carbon and aggressive way, especially the tech companies. I think it’s the pressure from within is one of the biggest reasons. So, it’s part of what gives me hope.”

Tim Juliani, Director of US Corporate Climate Engagement, World Wildlife Fund 

“Climate change is a consumption problem, as much as anything, and changing consumer behavior is incredibly hard. People buying the right thing because it’s the right thing isn’t going to be enough to save the planet.

It really needs to be from the top down. And that’s where corporations come in, because they’re the ones that are making the change for people.

We’ve had science-based targets for years. 3,000 companies now are committed are set targets, hundreds now that are committed to setting NetZero targets, yet every year, fossil fuels continue to go up, emissions globally continued to go up. So obviously, much more must be done. And I still truly believe we can’t get out of this problem without more government intervention.

We need action. And that’s where I think one of the most important things that Gen Z’ers can do is get out and vote. We have an election and 10% of the electorate in 2020 was Gen Z, 8 million more between 2020 and 2022. Getting out and making sure that we have a government that takes these issues seriously, can help with that trifecta of the consumer, corporates and government – I think is a way toward the promised land.”

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