Brands have roadmapped their strategies on climate action. But how well are those messages being heard by the Gen Z consumers? Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai’s hosting of Cop28 encouraged UAE businesses and brands to focus on the importance of their environmental agenda - and that’s a good thing.

For many UAE organisations, it provided an ideal PR vehicle to communicate their Environmental Social Governance strategies (ESG). However, some continue to operate a contrived greenwashing agenda, using this issue as a mere booster to their short and medium term PR, marketing and sales programs.

Astute business leaders are recognising the potential dangers of this and are starting to distance their brands and organisations away from it. Recently, the Unilever boss Hein Shumacher commented about how brands within the FMCG giant’s portfolio ‘will be encouraged to continue their environmental purpose as part of their overall brand proposition. But we will not force fit this across the entire portfolio. For some brands, it simply won’t be relevant’.

The problem with short term greenwashing is that today’s sophisticated and informed audiences can instantly spot an insincere marketing ploy, and that is particularly true of Gen Z. Labelled the first ‘digital natives’ by McKinsey – or the TikTok generation - most members of Gen Z are now in their mid-20s, are tech-savvy and are champions of sustainable consumer practices. Their views also influence other age groups to change their buying behaviour.

According to a 2022 survey by Team Lewis Foundation and HeForShe, young people are concerned about the planet’s well-being, ahead of gender equality and economic opportunities. And they make sustainability-first buying decisions.

Young are connected to what’s needed to be done

A look at the generation’s social media feeds reveals the link between Gen Z and sustainability. With #sustainability pulling 12 million posts on Instagram, trending #thrifttok videos on TikTok and Depop hauls on YouTube, the social landscape is dominated by Gen Z’s appeal to environmental awareness.

According to First Insight, like millennials, the majority of Gen Z shoppers are willing to spend an additional 10 per cent more for eco-friendly products. In fact, three out of four Gen Z consumers prioritise sustainability over brand name when it comes to making a purchase.

According to a recent Bloomberg report, the young students and professionals of the Gen Z audience now command $360 billion in disposable income. That figure will increase as the generation and its earning power accelerates.

Companies wanting to utilise the positivity of their sustainability agenda to influence the Gen Z generation need to consider how it can impact across all of their business operations, not just how it can resonate with Gen Z through a short-term PR campaign. A committed sustainability agenda will touch every business department, and in many cases will also influence the stakeholders, suppliers and partners with whom that company does business.

Doing things the right way

Great examples of high integrity brands here in the UAE include clothing retailer, Onlyethikal who made a choice to start a conversation about ethical and sustainable fashion. Usage of natural materials to produce their designs with rescued fabrics, using skilled artisans and craftsman who get paid fair wages in a health working environment is a testament of their business commitment towards climate goals.

Today, fashion is the second biggest polluter of the world, and as the fashion industry has created a demand for ‘wear & throw’ products, we need more brands like Onlyethikal who can speak, educate and offer Gen Z something to proudly wear on their sleeve.

Grocery provider Kibsons is another brand that is ahead of the curve; they realised very early that just a brown paper bag and reusable boxes will only get them to the door. Their investment in solar panels for the facility, water recycling systems, their ‘ugly but tasty’ product launch which works towards reducing food wastage are some of the examples how a business has taken sustainability right through their working module.

Shrewd companies, showing a planned and sustained approach to truly lowering their carbon footprint through effecting environmental processes and systems will be able to communicate that approach, its impact and ripple effect as a core and continuing message of their marketing campaigns.

Once Gen Z have bought into that, their brand loyalty will endure.