By Fleur Howe – Environment Editor
A recent study has provided statistics that state up to 50% of Gen Z believe cancel culture is necessary to take down unethical businesses. The research, taken place by MullenLowe Salt (a communications agency specialising in sustainability), emphasises the accountability Gen Z are placing on businesses to be sustainable, and how sustainability or lack of it, implicates a business. With 73% believing that it is the businesses responsibility to be contributing to a greener world, is it time for businesses to be considering this demographic in their business practices?
Cancel culture has emerged from the reliance on social media and influencers, the presence of businesses and industries online has created a space where they are being held to an accountability that has not been seen before. This drastic change to traditional marketing, with most young people relying on the opinions of the people they see online to decide what they buy and what they don’t support. From boycotting entire brands to mass unfollowing of individuals, cancel culture could be seen as the new way to protest… Spanning from human and social issues as seen with the Black Lives Matter movement, to environmental accountability, Forbes has suggested ‘cancel culture represents the voice of the voiceless’.
With 72% believing that their friends are overly influenced by celebrities it is reasonable to consider the impact of cancel culture on a business’s ethical strategies. With the understanding that there is an audience to judge, the ethical and environmental contribution from brands has led to inevitable greenwashing fads. With many brands promoting ‘sustainable’ ranges and products made from recycled materials, we have to consider whether cancel culture is pushing for reform or is it just pushing more pretence. Are these poor attempts to be greener genuine or is it a marketing ploy? To take it a step further, if we ‘cancel’ a brand for a poor sustainability attempt is that then shutting down any attempt for sustainability, or as a conscious consumer, do we reject false eco-solidarity and demand better?
Andy Last, CEO of MullenLowe Salt, stated that the research shows that ‘Gen Z are giving a clear ultimatum to businesses, that they risk being cancelled unless they live up to their social and environmental responsibilities.’. Cancellation is rampant with 1/5 having boycotted a product, or brand, it fast action leaves no room for debate, it seems there is an unclear line between holding a business accountable and cancelling them, unless we consider them one in the same. Whilst it doesn’t seem unreasonable to demand consciousness from the brands we support with an increasing 64% of Gen Zers happy for businesses to profit from contributing to a greener world. We are considering a market that relies on the consumer to support a brands ethos in order for them to not be cancelled.
This sweeping ultimatum may be drastic in theory, but the research also concluded that 73% believe their peers ignore sustainability when shopping online. This speaks to the role of online influence and how despite a large majority believing it is a business’s responsibility, there seems to be an equal lack on consumer accountability. To consider this more broadly, the research was taken from 16–20-year-olds so the likelihood is they have a limited budget, and whilst it is easy to reject unsustainability, in practice it is not yet affordable to shop sustainably. Gen Z’s desire for a greener contribution from businesses, without the means to be entirely not support the businesses that aren’t sustainable, could be contributing to businesses lack of urgency to make changes.
Should brands be threatened by cancel culture? Yes. For the first time ever on this broad a scale the consumer has a voice, and that voice can influence others. Although only 50% agree that cancel culture is necessary, its impact is undeniable; it is not necessary for a brand to be cancelled in order for them to be ethical, but it could certainly encourage change. If the consumer is expecting brands to make greener contributions, now is the time to listen.