Every day, Seth Harris rides his bike to school from his home that has a water-saving shower head, energy-saving light bulbs, organically grown cotton sheets, a toothbrush made from all recycled materials, certified sweatshop-free clothes and Fair Trade Certified tea, coffee and sugar. “I feel like I should know where something comes from before I buy it,” said Harris, the president of the TCU activist group Frogs for Fair Trade. “It’s my moral responsibility as a consumer.”
While this junior political science and international economics major may appear to be an anomaly, according to a survey released last week, he is part of a national trend in more responsible consumerism.
The 2006 Cone Millennial Cause Study, which surveyed 1,800 people between the ages of 13 and 25, found that 61 percent of people said they feel personally responsible for making the world a better place and that 78 percent believe a company should share that responsibility.
The poll was conducted by two Boston-based companies: Cone Inc., a public relations and research company, and the AMP Agency, a youth-focused marketing agency.
The companies specifically surveyed “millennials,” who they define as people born between 1979 and 2001.
This age group is not only becoming more conscious of what it buys, it is also buying more than ever, spending nearly $160 billion in 2005, according to a survey conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited, a market-research firm that surveys 2,000 teens twice a year.
In being a functional member of American society, one will inevitably acquire things they don’t need, which gives them more responsibility to know the implications of what they purchase, Harris said.
“There are a lot of people my age like me who have had a privileged upbringing,” he said. “I can’t change how our society works, but I can make the choice to not take things for granted and be responsible.”
Sixty-nine percent of those surveyed in the Millennial Cause Study said they consider a company’s social and environmental commitment when deciding where to shop.
More companies across the United States are responding to the buying trends of “millennials.”
Wal-Mart, a company that has been repeatedly criticized for being socially irresponsible, is now offering an organic line of food.
Stores marketed specifically as havens for the responsible consumer such as American Apparel, a chain of sweatshop-free clothing stores, and Green Living, an earth-friendly home appliance store in Dallas, are increasing in number.
You can even buy “conflict-free” diamonds from Brilliant Earth, a jewelry company created in August 2005 that guarantees its diamonds are mined in a socially and environmentally responsible way.
The summary of the Millennial Cause Study, found at coneinc.com, suggests the changing attitudes of young adults are the result of the Internet revolution.
“Technology has given the millennial generation complete access to what is happening around the globe,” said Anastasia Toomey, vice president of Consumer Insights for AMP Agency. “They are attuned to natural and social world-changing events, and they have the knowledge and ability to support the causes they believe in.”
Kelly Rand, a junior social work and religion major, said she fears this recent change in the attitudes of consumers will be another short-lived trend.
“Part of me is afraid it’s just a fad,” Rand said. “It seems like some people buy ethical goods but don’t really know why it’s important.”
Kelly Hanson, co-coordinator of Frogs for Fair Trade, said the trend of responsible consumerism is not likely to go away.
She said as information becomes more available and accessible the actions of corporations will become more transparent which will pressure them to behave ethically.
“It’s hard to have checks and balances on corporations in the free-market system,” said Hanson, a sophomore English and history major. “The consumer is the one in control, and technology is only giving us more control.”
Eighty-nine percent of people are likely to switch from one brand to another if the second brand is associated with a good cause, according to the Millennial Cause Study.
“I would like to think that people are becoming more aware and informed of injustice,” Harris said. “These young people are realizing they have the power to do something about it.