Sustainability and Generation Z: will boycotting big firms take the world a step further?

As you may know, boycotting companies, specific products, or even countries themselves is not a new concept. Back in the eighteenth century, American colonies’ actions against taxes on tea imports had already affected the British West India Company, transatlantic relations and the structural premises of our current liberal economic system. Three centuries (and a few pandemics) later, boycotting big firms or deliberately putting your budget, tastes, time and voice at the disposal of your personal aspirations and values still turns out to be more impactful and politically correct than one could think. However, let’s not forget that many companies are fortunately aware that contractual and economic realities cannot overtake biological laws and therefore are actively working on their strategy to reconcile both business and sustainably.  

With the growing digitalisation of corporations, Generation Z (22 years old and under) is at the forefront to discover and adhere to brands’ online marketing operations and activities on social media. Such a position irremediably places us as key consumers whose likes, shares and comments can shape and reverse trends on behalf of our concerns. According to Ipsos MORI, 57% of 18- to 25-year olds consider global warming as one of the most important issues in the world. The recent boycott of Oatly, ‘the original oat milk company’ which is alleged of receiving funding from BlackStone (involved in deforestation activities in the Amazonia), has pushed the brand to be more transparent and coherent in their business model. Boycotting and openly demanding clarifications from brands can consequently be efficient and encourage them to adopt more sustainable approaches. It is also in their very own interest to align their marketed immaculate image with their current strategy, internal organisation and ethics.  

In an interview given to Helena, alias @EarthbyHelena, the act of boycotting showed again that it could have a long-term and beneficial impact for brands, consumer and the environment. Through her social media account, Helena shares interactive videos as well as informative posts about diverse issues such as human rights and intersectional climate. Here’s what she said on the value of boycott.  

  1. Is boycotting the most efficient way to reverse trends and push brands to take action? What are other ways to do so? 

I think that boycott is powerful when done on a mass scale. Accusations against Boohoo which paid their employees £3.50 hour in Leicester led to demonstrable change as an incredible number of people called them out on social media, encouraging other consumers to stop buying their products and causing their share price to fall by 23%. It also sends a signal to other companies, inviting them to think twice about whom to take investments from. Another way to help corporations be more sustainable is to explain what you expect of them as a consumer; using more sustainable resources, providing a fair pay to their workers and being more transparent regarding their supply chains, for example.   

Creating demand in eco-responsible products can also make them understand that there are opportunities for more sustainable profit.  

  1. Is it in the interest of big companies to be progressive? How can they fulfil their immediate and short-term goals whilst monitoring their long-term impact?  

Firms must be progressive but not just at face-value for customers’ sake. Research shows time and time again that having a diverse staff increases productivity; the plurality of perspectives, ideas and experiences creates a culture of creativity and innovation that betters their progression as a company. Regarding big firms’ priorities and their long-term influence, it depends on what their short-term goals are. What can help them to act sustainably is to have quick reactions to customer backlash, to focus on what they can change in their business rather than adding new lines. Above all, they need courage.  

  1. Where do you often shop? Are there any brands or types of products that you never buy?  

In terms of clothes and fashion, I prioritise thrift stores and try to find my shoes on Depop or eBay to avoid buying from fast fashion brands. For food, I shop in small supermarkets and try to make my diet as plant-based as possible. Both my phone and laptop are second-hand and refurbished.  

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