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Class act in sustainability

“I believe the children are our future” is a famous line from a Whitney Houston song from the '80s.  There are some beautiful lines in that song that spoke about inspiring our future generations to lead the way to a better future. 
Our future is our Generation Z population, ages 7-22 going to school and graduating from college in a time where so much has changed, and such a large amount of information and resources are available to them. This generation has grown up on technology and uses it to make an impact. By next year, Gen Z will be the largest generation of consumers we have ever seen, representing up to $143 billion in direct spend and currently representing a whopping 28% of the population. Today, 93% of parents say that their kids are directly influencing their household and family purchases, meaning that they’re already making a significant impact on today’s market spend. And they’re the first generation to be completely fluent in rapid information gathering.
I recently spoke to a group of students in the Bellevue School District (a suburb in Seattle Washington) who are involved in their school's sustainability programmes. I contacted them after reading an article about their efforts to switch their School District's search engine from Google to Ecosia. Ecosia is a Bing partner (Bing powers Ecosia's search results) and a large percentage of their profits go to planting trees.  When these students learned about Ecosia, they saw an instant opportunity to benefit the environment with such a simple act of empowering all the students in the district to search using Ecosia.
The inspirational leader of this effort, Benjamin Mousseau, a recent graduate from Interlake High School said that growing up in Washington, the Evergreen state became infused in his identity. He remembers hearing about climate change in Middle School and said it was a “big wake up call.” He realised then that climate change should be a top priority for not only him, but his fellow students. He learned about Ecosia through a video he saw on YouTube. He then did his research to ensure that Ecosia was the 'real deal.’ That began his quest to embrace the mission of Ecosia, and get students in the school district to support it. He created a petition and promoted it on Instagram to capture student signatures to switch the district's search engine to Ecosia. To get signatures, they did a fundraiser to raise money to plant trees for every signature. Their effort has garnered over 2,500 petition signatures, they’ve planted 6,750 trees to date, and it's attracted more students from other districts to get engaged and support.
In short, Gen Z is THE future. The effort of these students is truly inspiring — not only their awareness of climate change, but how activism is core to their beliefs and how they leverage technology, specifically social to build support for their beliefs. They’re inspired and supported by their teachers and the adults around them that foster this passion and help steer the ideas to make an impact. One such organisation that supported these students is Sustainability Ambassadors, who take two approaches to drive awareness within middle and high school on sustainability. They infuse sustainability into the curriculum and support teachers, as well as support projects led by students.
With issues like global warming and climate change, corporate sustainability initiatives are arguably the most important for businesses to convey to their customers. It’s gone from a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘must-have’ component of company cultural values. Employees and customers demand it. Younger, more savvy consumers, particularly millennials, are significantly more socially and environmentally conscious than previous generations. According to a 2019 Fast Company survey, 75% of millennials said they would take a pay cut to work for an environmentally responsible company. 
Demonstrating and marketing sustainable business practices will be increasingly important as the influential future generations become employees and more independent, wealthy consumers. Brands need to look no further than the beliefs and actions of students, the Gen Z population who are not only more aware of the importance of climate activism, but are increasingly motivated to share their opinions of and support for brands that contribute to a more sustainable future. 
In the words of Whitney Houston "Teach them well and let them lead the way."
To learn more about how to get involved in the Microsoft Advertising Sustainability efforts, visit our blog that highlights actions you can take.
To learn more about Ecosia, and read about their recent milestone of planting their 100 millionth tree visit