The millennial generation believes it's the great green hope for saving the environment. But when it comes to understanding the issues, it turns out the young ones aren't nearly as well informed as they think they are, and they're pretty darn impressionable. I've spent a lot of time looking at corporate employers and all the things they are doing to appear eco-conscious to college and business-school grads who want to work for the good guys and believe a company's environmental credentials matter. The trouble is, these kids rely a lot on how things seem, and they don't look very closely at how things are, which makes them way less effective than they could be as employees and consumers. Consider a survey from Adecco: Forty percent of people ages 18 to 34 would be more likely to work for a company that's green, compared with about a third of those 35 and up. Moreover, 65% of these young ones say the company they work for should be doing more than it is about the environment, compared with half of those in the older age groups. But here's the kicker: Generation Y, those born 1977 to 1995, are the least likely group to actually know about environmental policies in the workplace. Among those whose company has such a policy, only 38 percent of young workers say they know what it is, versus 64 percent of those 55 or older and more than half of 35- to 54-year-olds.
So they don't actually know what their employers are doing, but they're sure they should be doing more. They don't seem to be any better informed as consumers. Ian Cross, director of the Center for Marketing Technology at Bentley College, surveyed more than 2,100 college students across the country, asking them which brands they perceived as the most and least green and why. Their answers, he found, "were directly tied to their perceptions and not necessarily reality." General Electric ( GE) and Apple ( AAPL) landed on both lists. GE because of its alternative-energy products, like wind turbines (good) and for its pollution (bad). Respondents couldn't give a particular reason for placing Apple in either column. More naively, they touted "Beyond Petroleum" as a green brand because of its green-themed ads. This, despite the fact that Beyond Petroleum is an advertising slogan for British Petroleum ( BP), which landed on the "bad" list for polluting. General Motors ( GM), Ford ( F) and the brands Range Rover, Hummer and Chevrolet wound up on the "bad" list for producing gas-guzzlers in general, or SUVs and trucks in particular. But Toyota ( TM) and Honda ( HMC) topped the "good" list even though both have offerings with middle-of-the-road pollution ratings on par with vehicles from those other companies, according to the EPA. Wal-Mart ( WMT) has no green cred because of its low prices, despite its widely publicized eco efforts. Google ( GOOG) and Ikea have plenty, but for no reason in particular. Nike ( NKE) makes the "bad" list for polluting, though watchdogs say it's more environmentally active than Google.
This from a generation that is supposed to be more well-informed and media savvy than the rest of us, and that is supposed to care about this stuff. Perhaps as these young adults mature, they'll text and twitter less and read more, so they can be as informed as they are idealistic when it comes to being eco-conscious workers and shoppers. For our sake, I certainly hope so.