The State of Consumer Spending: Gen Z Influencing All Generations to Make Sustainability-First Purchase Decisions

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New survey confirms sustainability more important than brands for all generations, from Gen Z to Boomers

PITTSBURGH, PA—November 23, 2021 —As sustainability and climate change dominate the headlines globally, new consumer research conducted by First Insight and the Baker Retailing Center at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania shows the power that Gen Z consumers have over older generations to influence purchasing decisions around sustainability. Fully three-quarters of Gen Z consumers said that sustainability was more important to them than the brand name when making purchase decisions. As a result of Gen Z’s influence over their Gen X parents on this issue, Gen X consumers’ preference to shop sustainable brands increased by 24 percent and their willingness to pay more for sustainable products increased by 42 percent since 2019.  

Gen Z, the demographic cohort born after 1997, has historically been the most vocal about the health of the planet. The survey, conducted by First Insight and the Baker Retailing Center at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, found that Gen Z leads the way in sustainability. In fact, consumers across all generations—from Baby Boomers to Gen Z—are now willing to spend more for sustainable products. Just two years ago, only 58 percent of consumers across all generations were willing to spend more for sustainable options. Today, nearly 90 percent of Gen X consumers said that they would be willing to spend 10 percent extra or more for sustainable products, compared to just over 34 percent two years ago.

Greg Petro, CEO of First Insight, said, “Our research points to a seismic shift in sentiment around sustainability purchasing decisions, with significant increases in just two years. When the previous study was fielded in 2019, older generations were not as sustainability-conscious as they are today. The global pandemic caused many to rethink their consumption and its impact on the health of the planet, yet Gen Z have been consistent in remaining true to their sustainability values while also educating and influencing the generations that came before them.”

Download the report to see all the key findings from the study here.

Additional Key Findings:
Today, the majority of respondents across every generation expect retailers and brands to be more sustainable. The survey found, however, that there is some disconnect across the generations about what sustainability actually means. Nearly half of the Boomers (44 percent), Gen X (48 percent), and Millennials (46 percent) agree that sustainability means “products made from recycled, sustainable and natural harvested fibers and materials.” Meanwhile, nearly half of the Gen Z (48 percent) respondents believe that sustainability means sustainable manufacturing. One thing most could agree on is that packaging should be sustainable. Across generations, 73 percent combined feel that sustainable packaging is very or somewhat important today, compared to only 58 percent in 2019.

The survey found that values-based purchase decisions—whether they are personal, social, or environmental—are more likely to be made by Gen X (76 percent), Millennials (77 percent), and Gen Z (75 percent), and within those groups, men (77 percent) are more likely than women (67 percent) to make values-driven purchases.

First Insight’s findings are based on the results of a U.S. consumer study of a targeted sample of more than 1,000 respondents, balanced by gender, geography, and generation, and was fielded between July 1, 2021, and July 10, 2021. The study was completed through proprietary sample sources among panels who participate in online surveys. Further details on the findings are available upon request.

About First Insight, Inc.
First Insight is one of the world’s leading Experience Management (XM) platforms that empowers companies to significantly incorporate the Voice of the Customer into the design, pricing, planning and marketing of products and service offerings. Through the use of online consumer engagement tools, the First Insight platform gathers real-time consumer data and applies predictive analytic models to create actionable insights to power decisions which drive measurable value. Customers include some of the world’s leading vertically integrated brands, sporting goods companies, department stores, consumer products companies, mass merchant retailers and wholesalers. For further information, please visit

About Baker Retailing Center at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
The Jay H. Baker Retailing Center is an industry research center at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The Center develops insights, through programs and resources, with our faculty, students, and industry leaders that influences industry research and encourages discussion on trending retail topics. Our faculty are world-renowned researchers, and our board members are globally recognized omnichannel and direct to consumer brands and retailers. The center was established in 2002 through a generous gift from Jay and Patty Baker. Jay Baker, former President and Director of the Kohl’s Corporation, is a 1956 graduate of the Wharton School. Learn more about the Wharton/Baker Retailing Center.

Media Contact:
Berns Communications Group
Stacy Berns/Michael McMullan /

First Insight Contact:
Gretchen Jezerc
SVP of Marketing

Baker Retailing Center Contact:
Mina Fader
Managing Director

baby boomers  millennials  consumer preferences  consumer preference  Gen Z  online survey  Survey Results  Generation Z  sustainability  Generation X  Consumer Purchase Behavior  Purchase Decisions  Consumer Survey  sustainable