A new report reveals the biggest social and environmental issues according to each generation and the pressure on business to act. We look at implications for nonprofits.

Top Environmental Issues by GenerationAustralians are deeply concerned about the environment, closely followed by COVID-19, according to a new study, The Power and the Passion, by The Republic of Everyone and The Bravery.

Working with Independent researchers, Mobium Group, the study spoke to 2,000 everyday Australians to understand the leading social and environmental issues plaguing them.

Taking a closer look at environmental concerns show that our oceans, climate change, and plastic waste took out the top spots.

Top Environmental Issues by GenerationThe six issues Australian’s are extremely concerned about all fall within the environmental category:

  • Our oceans (36%)
  • Climate change (35%)
  • Plastic waste (33%)
  • Toxic chemicals (33%)
  • Loss of forests and habitat (32%)
  • Air pollution (31%)

The next six issues people are extremely concerned about include:

  • Domestic violence (31%)
  • Mental health (29%)
  • Children’s health (28%)
  • Families in poverty (25%)
  • Access to health services (25%)
  • Struggling farmers (25%)

But looking bigger picture, considering all levels of concern (what respondents picked as ‘concerned’, ‘very concerned’, or ‘extremely concerned’), redistributes the answers:

  1. Plastic waste (83%)
  2. Toxic chemicals (83%)
  3. Our oceans (82%)
  4. Loss of forests and habitat (82%)
  5. Air pollution (82%)
  6. Domestic violence (82%)
  7. Families in poverty (82%)
  8. Struggling farmers (82%)
  9. Mental health (81%)
  10. Children’s health (78%)
  11. Drought (78%)
  12. Climate change (77%)

How does this differ by generation?

Top concerns were pretty consistent across the generations from Zoomer to Boomer. However, Boomers (71%) were less concerned about all issues than other generations, holding the lowest levels of concern for 17 out of 20 issues. Gen Z were the most concerned about all issues (79%) and held the highest level of concern for 16 out of 20 issues.

Top Environmental Issues by GenerationThere was also a difference between genders. While the top two concerns were the same for men and women (our oceans and climate change), women reported higher levels of extreme concern about all issues than men by a 5-10% margin.

Responses also differed according to where the respondents lived. Climate change was the number one concern for urban dwellers but was only ranked number seven for those living in rural and regional areas. Drought and struggling farmers were in the top 10 concerns for rural and regional people while they were absent in the top 10 for urban dwellers.

What are they doing about it?

The real difference was in how each generation responded to their concerns. While Gen Z were least likely to donate, they were more likely out of all generations to fill out an online petition and actively look for products that have a positive impact on social, community or environmental issues.

Boomers were least likely out of all generations to take any action except for recycling.

Top Environmental Issues by GenerationBut when looking at the distribution of power, Boomers are overrepresented: controlling most of household wealth, holding leadership positions in business and in parliament.

The push for business-led action

Four out of five respondents believe that brands and products should support causes or make changes to their products that address social and environmental issues – but it must be in authentic ways.

This study supports recent research suggesting that we’re entering into the era of the conscious consumer:

  • Almost 3 in 5 say they actively look for products and brands that support causes or have environmentally friendly attribute – at least sometimes
  • Almost 50% of Australians say they purchased a product (at least in part) within last month because they thought it would help support a social or environmental issue
  • And more than 1 in 5 say they did so in the last week.

It also seems that people are willing to pay more for products that support causes or have lower environmental impacts:

  • 1 in 3 say they will pay up to 5% more
  • 14% say they will pay up to 10% more
  • 5% say they will pay up to 20% more
  • 5% say they will pay up to 30% more

Around 3 in 10 people will choose a ‘good’ product over one that doesn’t make a positive impact if they’re the same price.

There are three actions that people want brands to take in creating a ‘good’ product:

Top Environmental Issues by GenerationIt’s no wonder that the demand for Australian made products is high. After the 2019/20 bushfires and COVID-19, there has been a push to support local businesses. Campaigns such as #BuyFromTheBush encourage consumers to buy products within our own backyards as a way to contribute to the recovery.

People also associate ‘Australian Made’ with local jobs and employment and ethical labour and sustainability.

What can your organisation do?

As experts in creating positive social, community and environmental impact – and measuring it, too – nonprofit organisations need to lead corporates on this journey. Think about how you can take this information into meetings with your corporate partners. How can you encourage meaningful, authentic change?

Think about your donors and how you want them to act. Does this align with how they typically respond to concerns? Are there opportunities to engage with Gen Z, the most educated generation in history, outside of donating or fundraising that could foster a deeper, long-term connection? How are we stirring passion and enthusiasm in older generations?

And, finally, think about your organisation’s footprint. Is your merchandise ethically sourced and locally made? Are you using recycled materials for your direct mail? The charity sector is not immune to criticism of its environmental impact, no matter how worthy the cause. Ensure you’re leading by example or consciously putting in the effort, not just in your subject matter, but all issues.

Download the full report here at The Republic of Everyone.

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