Forty or fifty years ago environmentalism was perceived as a status reserved for the social elite. Upon reflection, you may envision smug tree-huggers with Ivy League degrees and dreadlocks, who choose to live in a commune in which hangs a thick and permanent cloud of burning patchouli. Opponents of the movement of this time said that these people weren’t realistic–that they were lost high up in their ivory tower with no connection to reality. These were the environmentalists many people thought of forty-or-so years ago.
But not so now. Decades later, millennials may be the most environmentally conscious generation to date. They are exposed to more media, scientific data, and opportunities to come together and communicate their ideas. However, the term “environmentalist” no longer sits well with them.
Much like other controversial movements that started with the Baby Boomers, the title “environmentalist” feels more like a term that’s meant to polarize its audience than help it come together for the common good. More millennials are rejecting the title of “environmentalist,” but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t proactive in their attempts to live more sustainable lives.
A Pew Research Poll conducted in 2014 revealed that while millennials are more likely to seek products and services that are more sustainable, many still refuse to call themselves environmentalists. This may be because environmentalism is no longer a choice to them, but a necessity. Millennials grew up with greater access to information and media that influenced their lifestyle choices. More and more people believe that there is enough evidence to conclude that climate change is an issue and that people contribute to a large part of it. Ecological practices like using clean energy over fossil fuels, reducing water usage, and buying products that are sustainably made now appear to be the obvious choice for consumers.
Millennials as a whole are clearly willing to pay more for sustainable products versus others according to a Nielson study. But will all of this effort lead to a positive change in the environment? No one can know for sure what the permanent damage will be on our part, but with a more environmentally-conscious generation taking the helm of the future, there’s hope for a greener and more sustainable society in the decades to come.