Millennials Say They Care About Sustainability. So, Why Don’t They Shop This Way?

This is the title of an article by Luna Atamian Hahn-Petersen which was published on Business of Fashion. While the values of the millennials clearly point towards an ethical and more sustainable future, in front of their shopping choices they do not commit to their values.

Millennials definitely have the right intentions. A Cone Communication survey shows, that 83% of millennials would be more loyal when they can contribute to the social and environmental benefit of a company by purchasing their products (Cone Communications, 2015). A similar result was found in a study conducted by the LIM College: nearly 90% of global millennials would be willing to boycott a product or brand for eco-unfriendliness (LIM College, 2018). Also in front of the actual product they consider sustainability: OEKO-TEX found that 52% of millennials are interested in certified sustainable clothing and actually check the label for an independent organization, 49% determine what kind of fabric is used and 41% examine a product as to where it was manufactured (OEKO-TEX, 2018). They are also aware of sustainability: more than three quarter of the millennials interviewed by Deloitte who are living in the US, China and Europe consider ethical values always or sometimes before making a purchasing decision (Deloitte, 2017, p. 23).

While Nielson Global Survey of Corporate Social Responsibility (2015) found that 66% of global millennials are willing to pay more for ethical values (Nielson. 2015) only 37% actually purchase the product due to the sustainable and ethical values (OEKO-TEX, 2018). So why is there such a clash when it comes to the actual purchase decision?

The main issues seem to be “product availability and lack of clear marketing” (Hahn-Petersen, 2018). Luxury brands must meet the millennial’s criteria so that they actually purchase their product (LIM College, 2018). Consequently, the essential factors which lead to a purchase are the price, the value and the ease of purchase. Only if sustainable brands actually provide the scale and variety of fashion choices which meet these factors, they can successfully target the millennials.

On top of that, companies have to market their sustainable and ethical impacts efficiently. Only if the information is clear, visible and easy accessible the millennial consumer will actually be reached. As their attention span is notoriously short companies must communicate particularly effective both on- and offline. For example, the brand’s social and environmental engagement could be included in the product’s label. The same applies to organization’s logos, such as the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) or the certified Leather Working Group (LWG). Further, the ease of searching sustainable products online could be enhanced by filters such as ‘fair trade’ or ‘100% organic cotton’ on the company’s website.

Nevertheless, luxury brands in particular have to be aware of maintaining their core characteristics: image, prestige and exclusiveness. Those might be compromised if sustainability is not communicated correctly. This only emphasizes the importance of an effective 360°-communication: internet presence and communication is crucial as most millennials gather information first online and then on other channels before committing to purchase. Also, the staff plays a crucial role in communicating the compatibility of sustainability and luxury in person and therefore is essential in the process of the decision making.

Due to the millennial’s future impact as the biggest purchasing power, most companies are trying to target them nowadays. To communicate effectively and influence them in their decision to actually purchase a sustainable product, companies have to enter the millennial’s mindset and consequently adapt their strategies.



Photo: © Charles Etoroma on Unsplash

Cone Communications (2015, Sept 23) New Cone Communications Research Confirms Millennials as America’s Most Ardent CSR Supporters. Cone Communications. Retrieved September 30, 2018 from

Deloitte (2017). Bling it on. What makes a millennial spend more? Retrieved September 30, 2018 from

Hahn-Petersen, L. A. (2018, April 21). Op-Ed | Millennials Say They Care About Sustainability. So, Why Don’t They Shop This Way? Retrieved 09.30.2018 from

Lim College (2018, February 13) LIM College Study Reveals That When it Comes to Buying, Millennials Are Not Eco-Fashionistas. Retrieved September 30, 2018 from

Nielson (2015, Nov 05) Green Generation: Millennials Say Sustainability Is a Shopping Priority. Nielsen. Retrieved September 30, 2018 from

OEKO-TEX (2018, May 03) The Key To Confidence: What Does It Take to Build Trust with Busy, Sustainability-Minded Consumers?. Retrieved September 30, 2018 from