It was one of those small revelations in my life when I discovered the idea of the ‘pink pound’.
Towards the end of the ’90s and early 2000s brands suddenly started to focus on the LGBTQIA+ community across, predominantly, the western world. Seen as a chance for brands to appear to be progressive and more expecting, it was welcomed. But really it wasn’t a mark of change to see brands more welcoming to a minority community. It was brands that collectively decided due to governmental restriction and societal views that this minority group are less likely to marry or have children, and subsequently not have dependents ‘hold them back’. This would allow them to progress further in their careers, make more money and have more disposable income.
In 2019 LGBTQIA+ adults held a combined buying power of $3.7 trillion globally. But the money spent in 2019 was rather different. Changes in law meant this minority group is now getting married, having children and potentially conforming to a more heteronormative view on society. Brands now, typically in their advertising, show a whole range of people as normal, with different ethnicities, sexualities, genders and disabilities. Brands have always had a focus on the colour of money and while the early stages of millennial culture centred on the ‘pink pound’, the future target is now the ‘Green Pound’.
Generation Z is the future. Obviously, they are the next generation and children are our future. It’s strongly documented that Gen Z are growing up in the middle of a climate crises, whereas the generation before them were only warned or began to see the effects of a less frighteningly named ‘global warming’. Gen Z is not interested in just talk when it comes to the environment, they expect and demand action.
Online service GreenMatch found that “Generation Z is continuing the trend set by millennials in choosing to spend more money on goods from sustainable or ethical companies.”
So why is an architectural designer talking about brands and pounds? Well Gen Z is smarter than any generation before. While they may show gratitude towards brands taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint, such as making recyclable packaging, this generation will soon learn if the sustainable brand they use isn’t 100% sustainable. And of course, this isn’t an overnight shift, these things take time. Where I (a Gen C’er) and the Gen Z’s find it hard to join the dots is when you come to re-use your single-use cup in a store that is built from toxic materials, materials that have large carbon footprints or have travelled halfway around the world to make sure the store offers the right ‘look’.
“While Gen Z’ers feel personally responsible to make a difference and 76% believe we will have made headway on important issues in five years’ time, 90% also believe companies must drive action on social and environmental issues”
Quote from sustainablebrands.com
With an expectation on companies and brands to drive this change, it can’t just be gesture, it has to be more. It can’t just be little elements a brand needs to make sure it is striving for sustainability in all its assets including the building they inhabit. We have recently designed a flagship store for a well-known food and beverage brand in Heathrow Airport, Terminal 2. It was an interesting project because, for very different reasons, the Airport, our Client and ourselves as designers at InsideOut all wanted to produce a sustainable design, not just in the end product, but in the build process too.
At this relatively early stage in my career, after an eco-focused degree in interior architecture, I was pretty horrified at how the humblest of materials could have such a dark past. After many meetings, discussions and research, we produced a design that matched the brand’s sustainable ethos, that goes beyond recycling a cup; the recyclable tiles, the PVC free hygienic surfaces for the kitchen and material VOC levels were the lowest achievable.
“With Generation Z on track to becoming the largest generation of consumers this year, retailers and brands must start supercharging sustainability practices now if they are to keep pace. With every generation, sustainability is becoming further embedded in purchase decisions.”
Quote from First Insight CEO, Greg Petro.
Now the reason that these choices are so powerful, is not only because this is how we should all be designing and living, but it also enhances brand credibility. In the ‘cancel culture’ we currently reside in, and negative factors that can be dug up to form a case on why something or someone is bad, it is paramount that if a brand claims to be sustainable, it strives for that goal in every factor, and the built physical presence of that brand needs to follow suit. Generation Z won’t buy a vegan sandwich and then sit on a leather-clad stool.
“What a difference 15 years make, as younger generations have risen seeking not only sustainable products and brands, but openly stating they are willing to pay more for them,” says First Insight CEO Greg Petro.
Gen Z and the younger millennials aren’t just talking. They won’t rely and depend on sustainable brands. They currently hold a strong buying power and rely on word of mouth and expect to see real change in action. If brands decide to strive for a truly sustainably designed store, hotel or whatever the brand’s physical presence is, it must be considered from the very beginning of the design process, not just be an add-on factor. Then the ‘green pounds’ will roll in.