By Nicole Dufraine
Originally posted at The Green Student

I am thankful to have spent the past 4 years of my undergraduate degree surrounded by some incredibly inspiring individuals in the environmental field. Working with like-minded students and professors each day has helped me to maintain a positive attitude about the ideas we want to make a reality, even when we feel hopeless as we watch environmental issues rapidly spiraling out of our control. Generally-speaking, environmental studies students are extremely involved within their school and the surrounding community. The same can be said about other young people following different programs of study, but are they engaged to the same extent?

Millennials, or Generation Y, are the children of the Baby Boomers and Generation X. They are a group of well-educated young people with strong, value-driven expectations for their career and life aspirations. Not too long ago, it was proposed that this generation has shifted from buying things to own things to buying into new ideas and experiences – we are a generation that revolves around less ‘stuff.’ We are the first generation to grow up using digital technology, and our digital identities influence an entirely new definition of ownership. We are taking some established businesses by surprise with our purchasing habits by demanding goods that go beyond business as usual, incorporating corporate social responsibility values and selling a brand we can connect with at an emotional level. Is this truly a shift in consumption habits for a better future or a reduction in response to the current economic climate?

It turns out that this decrease in ownership of material things does not necessarily equal greener consumption habits. While many studies have shown that Millennials care for the environment and consider it a high-priority issue, taking action is another story. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology released a report that revealed the majority of Millennials value money, image and fame over self-acceptance, community and the environment. While they are well-educated and aware of social and environmental issues, they are much less likely to be actively engaged, with 15% of Millennials responding that they make no effort to help the environment, compared to 5% of Baby Boomers. In addition, only 21% of Millennials think it is important to be personally involved in efforts to clean up the environment. Hanks et al surveyed university students about their concerns around global warming. To their surprise, 51% of respondents answered they were ‘somewhat’ worried, while 25.5% answered ‘not very much.’ Even among the most worried, a high level of awareness did not translate into greener purchasing behaviours (buying sustainably-designed products or used items vs. new ones) or responsible waste disposal.

Instead, Millennials are placing the pressure on the business sector to solve our toughest environmental challenges. While business does play a large role in the path towards sustainability, as humans sharing this planet, we are all responsible for what we consume and dispose of. Awareness is only part of the equation. How do we solve a global problem with only a handful of participants? As Albert Einstein said, “It is every man’s obligation to put back into the world at least the equivalent of what he takes out of it.”

The Green Student blog shows off a sampling of writing from TheGreenStudent.ca, Alternatives' sister site aimed at students in environment-related programs. In addition to housing Alternatives’ comprehensive guide to environmental education in Canada, TGS provides students with a forum for sharing their writing, campaigns, and events.

Nicole is an Environment & Resource Studies student at the University of Waterloo. She is interested in the business side of environmental management and aspires to become a social entrepreneur. She is running TheGreenStudent.ca as a part of her undergraduate thesis. In her spare time she enjoys writing, cooking and travelling on a student budget.

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