Generations are defined by their differences and the significant forces at work re-shaping predominant attitudes and behaviors of prescribed age-sets. Generation X moved out of focus several years ago as the value set of the Millennials began to take shape and become meaningful – as represented by the 2008 elections where the second highest youth voter turnout (the first was 1972 when 18 year olds were first allowed to vote).

But what’s happening with the Millennials as it relates to consumption and sustainability? We’re obsessed with the emergence of naturally derived products, organic foods, non-toxic cleaners and we’ve been watching consumer packaged goods drive the momentum for the sustainability movement. With the exception of some niche brands, these national brands have been largely targeting responsible heads of household. Youth brands have seemingly been ignored.

This doesn’t mean that Millennials don’t care nor that sustainability is not looming as the largest macro-trend to hit culture and business this century. The Y Generation in fact was shaped by the same forces that have brought sustainability to the forefront of global business and geo-political concern. They were raised during a period of affluence, corporate greed, and interruption. They came of age during the height of concern about global warming, economic crisis and the impact of diminishing natural resources. They value social activism and are anti-greed. They respect their elders, love their families, are team players and pro-underdog. In short, their very basic nature embraces all that sustainability stands for.

This has not proven evident in the brand marketplace but the signs of Millennial interest are everywhere else.

– After a survey determined that 63% of students and parents said interest in environmental dedication would be a significant determiner of college choice, the Princeton Review added a “green” evaluator in 2008 to the annual directory they publish to help college students decide which college to go to.

– USA Today reported in 2009 that students are flocking to degrees and programs that incorporate sustainability. From MBA’s to technical training to architecture and agriculture, green vs. greed is driving students toward new career pursuits.

– Initiatives such as Green My Parents and Teens Turning Green are just a few of the thousands of innovative movements developing at a grass-roots level across the nation. Student advocacy groups focused on health, environment, political changes, water conservation, urban issues and an infinite number of other environmentally related concerns are focal points for youth with energy and after-school time to spare.

In Millennial Makeover, authors Winograd and Hais describe the two types of realignments that have alternated throughout our country’s history. Two of them, “idealist” and “civic” are being passed over Gen X’ers from the Baby Boomers to become defining characteristics of Next Gen behaviors. The impact on consumerism is unclear but it is certain that the shift from Generation Me to Generation We will drive new spending patterns and brand relationships as the marketplace matures and these next pioneers enter the workforce.

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