09 dec 2019
Millennials and the Future of our Environment
Embracing Technology and the Digitalization of Business
Many around the world are growing sick of hearing about Millennials but realize how important this generation might just be. Millennials continue to be a hot topic when discussing current trends and studying how they will impact our community moving forward. In the waste and recycling industry, whoever is generating the waste tends to be analyzed first and given that millennials are the largest group currently contributing to the waste stream, it is important to analyze the patterns of millennial waste to determine the future of our environment.
Millennial’s Environmental Relationship
Since appearance is everything to this generation, a major trend that has been recognized within the millennial population is the need to appear environmentally friendly. This includes using reusable bags/products, investing in eco-conscious companies, as well as purchasing sustainable products and promoting them throughout their personal and digital networks.
The importance of buying reusable and sustainable products is becoming extremely important in the Zero-Waste movement. In our present world, over 127 countries regulate the use of plastic bags. This is a growing regulation that has been spreading to states across the US as well. These increasingly popular regulations have sparked the need for the purchase of reusable bags or a small fee to receive a bag at checkout when shopping. But what is the relationship between shopping habits and number of bags being used?
With millennials seeking more convenience, grocery stores and drug stores are beginning to blend together into a “one-stop-shop”. Roughly 70% of millennials go to more than five stores a month for shopping. Comparing that number to the number of plastic bags that would be used is shocking. Purchasing multiple bags each time for all five stores would lead to massive amounts of waste. In addition to this, Millennials are also largely responsible for the increase in online purchases, playing into the convenience that comes with online shopping. All being shipped in cardboard boxes, which will then need to be recycled. For this generation, their own habits are driving the need for change.
In addition, millennials want to interact with brands that are associating with Zero-Waste, as well as environmental preservation. If millennials can reduce the use of plastic bags, then the products in their bags should follow the same guidelines. Many companies are realizing the importance in the beliefs held by this generational cohort. In fact, some brands are specifically changing the way that they run from an operational standpoint, to become more environmentally friendly, therefore becoming more millennial friendly.
Another infamous trait of the millennial generation is the obsession with new technology; so, what does this mean for brands? More money, and free advertising, since millennials are likely to personally promote Zero-Waste brands to their friends, as well as on personal and social platforms. Not only is social media being used to promote certain movements such as Zero-Waste, but it is also being used to promote the products being purchased by the Zero-Waste supporters. The question now remains, will the cost of sustainable products be the greatest obstacle for the Zero-Waste movement?
Putting a Price Tag on Zero-Waste
Now that we know millennials want to purchase environmentally-friendly products, will the price for these products prove to be too high? The truth is, most people can’t afford to buy green, sustainable products. However, it is assumed that if millennials are leading the charge to purchasing these products, it could make an impact on how much waste will be produced.
Each generation has had to deal with recycling on various levels and with different types of materials. Millennials seem to value sustainability more than the act of recycling; however, this is because they value the use of sustainable products the most. Beginning with the manufacturing process, if they used sustainable materials, it reduces the need or worry regarding recycling. The key point is to create a cleaner planet through more streamlined recycling processes. Pushing back the responsibility of recycling onto manufacturers, provides a more convenient process for millennials, making It most favorable to them. But how do millennials feel about recycling?
Is Recycling Trending?
Contradictory to most of the claims made, millennials are not considered the front runners in recycling. In fact, they are least likely to recycle, and preserve energy. Since millennials are focused on appearance, they are willing to buy reusable products, support environmentally friendly brands, and promote sustainable products. However, they are not likely to recycle, as well as stop charging their phones overnight to reduce energy usage. One of the main aspects of millennials’ lives that will have an impact on behavior: technology.
Millennials have been using technology to avoid using paper, increase the efficiency of having the world at their fingertips, and enjoy the convenience of everything on the go. Just as it is transforming the world, it is also transforming the waste and recycling industry.
If millennials can use technology to avoid producing waste, then it will cancel out the fact that they aren’t considered strong recyclers. As this generation gets older, they are going to be moving into decision-making positions both professionally and personally. The question will then become, will they practice what they preach?
Technology in Business
As we investigate the future of our businesses, it seems that most consumer purchased brands are moving towards a more environmentally friendly platform to appeal to the mass buyers. This is a trend that seems to be benefitting the companies that choose to act on it. Most of the decision makers that are choosing to switch are the baby boomers. This is occurring based on the research that millennials are the largest generation purchasing goods.
Using technology in business is going to be one of the largest shifts between generations. Although baby boomers have been at the forefront of technology and adapted to the use of it, millennials are able to take it to the next level and harness the full potential of “new technology” and are comfortable embracing and communicating the change. But what if the use of technology could bring the Zero-Waste plan to full fruition; would waste companies join the movement and embrace the change?
Millennials Take Charge in the Waste & Recycling Industry
In the waste and recycling industry, many companies are established and operated by families – generation after generation. Some have now brought on their 3rd or even 4th generation as part of their business. A current trend that is becoming extremely relevant is having the next-generation millennial members of the family provide technological expertise. With the evolution of digitalization in the waste and recycling industry, companies that have been passed down for decades are looking for guidance from the youngest members of the family. There are many reasons why millennials are an important aspect in recommending and implementing technology.
The first key reason involves the experience that millennials have, since they have been using technology from a young age. The current owners of some of these family-owned waste and recycling companies have taken over running their businesses from the generation before them – scaling the company and increasing profits and not much needed to change. The investments they made were in the assets of the business and less on technology. The technology they did invest in was fine for what they needed to do, but the current owners are more innovative and do realize it is time to embrace new technology to continue to drive success for their business. There is always some resistance to change, but if they turn to the next generation family members that will be running operations in the future, then they might feel more comfortable with the decision to make the shift
The second reason that can be agreed upon throughout these family-owned companies is the value of investing in the digitalization of the business. If companies are going to take on hundreds if not thousands of customers, as well as multiple lines of business, investing in technology can improve their business operational efficiency, reduce manual processes and errors, and increase their customer satisfaction
The final reason includes creating leadership and confidence that will come along with a decision like switching to digital operations. Although this is a large investment and change to the business, the current structure of this industry is evolving, and if businesses do not continue to adapt to new technology, they may get left behind.
The Future is Today
In today’s world, the importance of the 3Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle is finally getting the recognition that it deserves. The idea that millennials could be playing a large role in the future of our country and its companies needs to be acknowledged. By analyzing the habits and attitudes of millennials, it is possible to predict the future of our waste stream. In the waste and recycling industry specifically, technology could be the key to keeping our processes more efficient for the benefit of our environment.