How does sustainability pertain to your audience?

As businesses struggle with sustainability and how it relates to their brand and clients, we thought we would offer up a comparison of sustainability attitudes and perceptions by generation.

Perception is an important key to a good sustainability initiative. But there is a gap between what companies see as sustainability and what consumers perceive as sustainability. Consumers see sustainability as meaning a company is not in danger of going out of business. What a business sees as sustainability, the consumer sees as recycling. So we start with a perception and terminology issue that must be overcome.

To look at why certain generations are more inclined toward sustainability we need to take into consideration how each generation viewed products. Our country had a history of recycling and sustainability, because of the product containers and resources that were available before and during WWII. So the Matures are familiar with recycling and sustainability. As new materials and containers were introduced and with a new-found prosperity after the war, we felt we didn’t need to recycle, and we created a generation of non-recyclers. Boomers learned at their parent’s side about sustainability, but didn’t teach their children the GenXers. More recently there has been a change in that mindset. We embarked on campaigns to educate people about the benefits of recycling, and so the Millennials have grown up being taught about the importance of sustainability.

In the past few years, as everyone rushed to be environmentally conscience, we created an additional problem. Everything became “green”, and we started to over-saturate the consumer with propoganda. This push to be “green” created a greenwashing that grew into mistrust. The greenwashing is thought to be pervasive and spills over to products that are truly green. To overcome this, businesses must provide clear and consistent proof of their sustainability efforts. Those efforts need to be a cornerstone of the way the company does business and not just an FSC Label on your brochure, that FSC Label needs to be part of your overall focus and strategy.

So which generation perceives sustainability with the highest regard?
As you might guess, Matures followed by Millennials, Boomers and GenXers. All the generations hold recycling in high regard and claim that a company’s practices do influence their perceptions and buying attitudes. As the numbers below illustrate, there is a movement toward green attitudes and sustainability. We as businesses need to communicate what sustainability means and how we can all make the cycle of recycling work.

Printing can be a positive part of your sustainability message. Although printing has a bad reputation as not being green, the printing process is much more green than the alternatives. Almost everything we use in the printing process gets recycled, from paper to chemicals, plates to dies. At Printing Partners we have eliminated most of our caustic solvents and are using biodegradable solutions for printing and cleaning. Almost all paper contains recycled content and can be recycled and inks are soy based (a plus for Indiana soy bean farmers). If you compare printing to electronic media, printing shines. Just think of what happens to all the components, batteries and other hardware items in your computer, smartphone, etc. There really isn’t a good process for recovering and recycling those devices, they typically end up in landfills or worse.

Sustainability is here to stay. People are asking for it and as costs for recycled goods come in line with virgin materials, the obstacles to switching will be gone. It’s our environment. Let’s take care of it.

To learn more about the sustainability practices of Printing Partners, visit our web site.

Article source: The Sage Group, 2009

For more on this topic you may want to read:

Millennial Paper Usage and Attitudes
Rochester Institute of Technology

The Environment: Public Attitudes and Individual Behavior – A Twenty Year Evolution
Rochester Institute of Technology

Survey reveals generation gaps on sustainability attitudes
Packaging Digest

The So-What? of Sustainability: Inside the Minds of Millennials to Matures (slideshow)
The Sage Group

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