Last updated: 13.12.23

Gen Z and Millennials’ Sustainability: What You Should Consider To Be More Ethical and Sustainable as a Food Business


Gen Z and millennials are becoming more driven to be sustainable consumers, which is something that we’re seeing on an international scale. Research has shown that over two-fifths (42%) of millennials and nearly two-fifths (39%) of Generation Z are more likely to purchase sustainable services or products.

When it comes to the food that these cohorts are consuming, this is no exception. Studies by McKinsey and Co have highlighted that nearly two in three (73%) of Gen Z people believe that their generation is more conscious about the environmental impact of the food they consume. Not to mention that for millennials, a belief that particular diets are more ethical and better for the environment are two major factors influencing 3 in 5 of these individuals, according to data.

It would seem that food businesses in particular need to be more concerned about how their companies are geared towards the mindsets that more Gen Z and millennials are adopting with regards to sustainable and ethical food. Both of these demographics make up a large proportion of the public, meaning that their behaviour and beliefs need to be considered.

In this article, we reveal the reasons why Gen Z and millennials care so much about sustainability, what they expect of you as a food business, and how you can adopt more ethically and sustainably focused practices for the benefit of the environment and these cohorts.

Why Do Gen Z and Millennials Care About Sustainability? 

Millennials care about sustainability, and so do Gen Z. These demographics have the highest consideration for eco-friendly and sustainable products, with 94% and 93% of these groups, respectively, being sustainably driven, according to a report.

But, what is the reason why Gen Z and millennials are more environmentally and sustainability conscious? According to a global study conducted by GlobeScan, younger generations such as Gen Z and millennials are more likely to feel ashamed about living in a way that is not environmentally friendly. Faced with growing economic and environmental challenges, including climate change and the cost-of-living crisis, these may also be driving factors in contributing to millennial and Gen Z sustainability. 

Given that the same research also revealed that these generations are more likely to incorporate sustainability into their daily lives and change their lifestyles to be more environmentally driven, this makes sense. This is why we are likely seeing these groups dominate the market as green consumers, particularly when it comes to food. 

How are Gen Z and Millennials Prioritising Ethical and Sustainable Food?

There are numerous ways that both Gen Z and millennials are prioritising being environmentally conscious and sustainable. For example, a study by Tetra Pak revealed that food packaging is one of the priorities for these cohorts, with tinned soup being consumed less given that three-quarters of millennials prefer their soup in cartons because it can be more easily recycled. 

There has also been a focus on consuming more local ingredients and food products that haven’t travelled great distances. Growing food locally is the second most sustainable option of food products and agricultural practices, or at least according to Gen Z as 74% of respondents in a study felt this was the case. 

Along a similar vein, organic food is increasingly popular amongst millennials, as 52% of organic consumers, according to a study by the Organic Trade Association, are of this cohort. Organic farming is considered to be a more sustainable alternative to usual farming methods, which would make sense given both Gen Z and millennials are increasingly supporting this.

Meat and dairy plant-based alternatives are also growing in popularity in a movement that is driven largely by Gen Z and millennials, with two of the reasons for this being to support animal welfare and sustainability, according to reports.

These are just a handful of ways that Gen Z and Millennials are prioritising ethical and sustainable food in an effort to be green consumers. As recent reports found that annual spending in the UK on ethical products surpassed £100 billion for the first time, we could expect that this demand would only continue with more members of these generations prioritising these foods. 

What Issues Do Gen Z and Millennials Consider Most Important With Regards to Sustainability in the Food Industry?

In order to get ahead of this trend that we’re seeing, food companies need to understand the areas of change that Gen Z and millennials want to see, over which they should expect to be held accountable.

A 2016 analysis by the company Nielsen in the U.S. indicated that around 80% of millennials are keen to learn more about how their food is produced and to get a glimpse behind the scenes of the production or manufacturing process. Meanwhile, 51% said they check packaging labels to ensure the products offer a positive social and environmental impact, with around one-third seeing organic and fair trade food as highly desirable.

Meanwhile, a survey of 1,000 millennials conducted by the Shelton Group revealed that young adult consumers are looking to businesses to adopt greener manufacturing policies, potentially by reducing the amount of packaging they use or by modifying their methods to minimise the impact on water and air quality.

These are but a few issues that are being prioritised by millennials in particular, and are likely mirrored by Gen Z given their shared interest in being eco-conscious. Whilst there will be more that studies have revealed, there’s an overwhelmingly consistent consensus to show that these demographics are very clear about what they expect from their food and the organisations involved in producing it. Now, it falls on the businesses themselves to step up and deliver.

How to be More Sustainable and Ethical as a Food Business

It’s in the hands of food businesses to deliver more eco-conscious and ethical food to Gen Z and millennial consumers to develop as sustainable companies. Here are four key ways that food businesses can be more ethical and sustainable.

Audit Your Sustainability

Conducting audits in your business is a key way to illustrate where you’re already being sustainable and where efforts can be made to become more sustainable. This can be completed for your supply chain, highlighting the practices of your suppliers and other collaborators to bring to light topics such as their environmental practices, how they treat their staff, and the distance their products travel to reach your business. 

Audits can also be executed for the amount of waste and the types of waste you produce in your business, and whether this waste can be recycled or used for composting. They’re a great way to draw a bigger picture of your business sustainability that can be applied to various areas of your operations, so no one area may be overlooked. 

Be Prepared to Prove Your Sustainability

It’s not enough to simply say that your food business is sustainable. How is it sustainable and where is the evidence that this is the case? 

Now more than ever, there’s pressure for businesses to be more transparent about sustainability and are being held accountable by groups including consumers and stakeholders. You’ll likely be questioned if your business is making claims about being sustainable if these claims can’t be backed up by the facts.

Additionally, when it comes to environmental protection and business ethics, sincerity is crucial. A food business shouldn't be looking to use sustainability as a millennial marketing ploy. Only by making a sincere ethical commitment can organisations achieve the kind of authenticity that Gen Z and millennials will actually respond to.

Set Measurable and Ambitious Sustainability Targets

It’s good to enforce new methods and practices to be sustainable, but for the good of the planet and to gain the respect of Gen Z and millennials, you want to continue to make strides to be more sustainable in years to come. Thus, setting yourself targets that are ambitious but can be measured will help you obtain your sustainability goals quicker, and will mean you are motivated to continue to make your food business as sustainable as possible.

Adopt More Sustainable and Eco-conscious Practices Where Possible

In line with the above points, the final consideration to make is to see where more sustainable and eco-conscious practices can be adopted in your business, and where current methods can be switched out for more sustainable alternatives. The more strides you take to be more environmentally and sustainably driven, the more you are supporting the planet and earning the trust of Gen Z and millennials.

How Should an Increased Preference for Sustainability in the Food Industry Affect Learning and Development Strategies?

For organisations that have never invested seriously in environmental training before, making this shift can be a complex process. It's unquestionably an essential one, not just due to the expectations of millennial customers, but also from a basic business ethics perspective.

All food service companies need to be prepared to overhaul their environmental and sustainability policies and provide their staff with the learning and development opportunities necessary to help them get to grips with better, more efficient ways of working. This could mean educating them on day-to-day responsibilities such as proper waste disposal, sustainable water use and energy conservation, or on more complex topics such as ethical sourcing and recipe formulation.

Many of these goals will involve long-term commitments, based on the fact that environmental standards tend to evolve as regulations change and methodologies are updated. Providing teams with ongoing access to the latest e-learning materials will allow them to keep on top of these changes, helping the organisation to continue being seen as a leader in this field, rather than a trend-chaser.


Why is ESG Important to Gen Z?

ESG stands for environmental, social, and governance, and refers to a set of aspects that are taken into consideration when investing in companies, encouraging them to act in a responsible way. 

ESG is important to Gen Z because they are increasingly working to tackle environmental, social, and economic issues, meaning that a Gen Z person is more likely to view a company with a higher ESG performance positively. 

What is the Difference Between Gen Z and Millennials?

The difference between Gen Z and millennials is a matter of the time period in which these cohorts were born. Millennials are individuals born between roughly 1981 and 1995, whereas Gen Z are people born between 1995 and 2012. 

What Characteristics Do Millennials Have That Support the Sustainable Development Goals? 

There are an assortment of characteristics which millennials possess that make them more likely to support and promote sustainability. One of these is that millennials are optimistic, specifically about a future that is more sustainable, as a result of their growing up in a generation where technology is a constantly evolving advancement. 


Businesses looking to appeal to Gen Z and millennials need to consider more than just their ingredients. They should be thinking seriously about the environmental impact of their products, their commitment to an ethical supply chain, and the sustainability of their packaging since a failure to do so could result in a significant loss in revenue from these demographics. 

Investment in the right training to bring operations up to standard could also be a very wise move so that your business is aligning itself with the values and commitments to be more sustainable and ethical in the food industry. We hope that this article has offered you the insight necessary to understand the reasoning behind Gen Z and millennials’ shift to be more sustainable, and the ways in which you can adopt sustainable measures in your business, whilst prioritising training, to enforce eco-conscious and ethical principles in your workplace. 

When communicating the importance of being a sustainable business to your employees, you want to ensure that you’re delivering this in the best way possible. Our ‘Making the Case for Change Course’ teaches team leaders and business professionals to initiate and manage change occurring within an organisation, helping to assess when change is needed and put in place a plan for enforcing this change in the right way.