Greenwashing is embarrassing. Similarly shameful is the number of companies that partake in this practice. With young people calling on companies to actively advocate for social and environmental changes, many brands have taken the easy way out in their advocacy. However, Gen Z is not putting up with it. Taylor Swift was put under fire earlier this year regarding her 170 private jet trips and average flight time of 139 miles per flight in 2022. On TikTok, #climatechange has 5.3 billion views, and #greenwashing has 119.5 million. Brands that have been called out are Volkswagen, McDonald’s, Nespresso, and Walmart. The newest company to be exposed for greenwashing is Delta Air Lines. Delta is currently facing a class action lawsuit regarding its “carbon neutral” advertising and promotion, which was launched in February of 2020. The legal action was filed in California targeting their statement regarding being the “world’s first carbon neutral airline” — allegedly, it’s mostly junk offsets that do not affect the climate crisis. With 90% of JUV’s Receipt network understanding what it takes to be a sustainable brand, and 61% regarding carbon neutrality, Gen Z is diving into the nitty-gritty of climate-forward policies.
The end of May marks the culmination of two quintessential 2023 TV shows — “Ted Lasso” and “Succession.” The former is a sitcom show inserting a coach of American football into a British soccer team. The latter is a dark comedy about the heirs of an international media conglomerate. Though the two wildly popular shows’ plots largely differed, fans of each had a common struggle as they came to an end. Since the last episode dropped, fans have discussed emotional Easter eggs, TedBecca, and Toheeb Jimoh. @tattooineobi Tweeted, “just finished watching the ted lasso finale” with a video of “Family Guy”’s Stewie Griffin crying in bed, which is basically all of us now. As for “Succession,” defenders of each character — Roman, Kendall, Connor, and Shiv (often the actress rather than who she plays) — had their moments online. @nocontextroyco overlaid the company logo on a pride flag to jokingly commemorate the month of June. Funnily enough, the two shows both have actress Harriet Walter, whose advice was the same: “just sell the d*mn thing.” Until “Black Mirror” and “The Summer I Turned Pretty” drop their newest seasons, TV fans will be parched of content.
Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, began working with Adidas to manufacture shoes almost a decade ago. In October of 2022, the athletic wear brand terminated their partnership with the rapper. He was put under review after wearing a “White Lives Matter” shirt, then officially removed from their team after saying, “I can say antisemetic sh*t and Adidas cannot drop me” and threatening to “go death [def] con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE.” Since October, the company has allegedly taken a $540 million windfall and been sued by its stakeholders for “routinely ignor[ing]” Ye’s antisemetic comments — the plaintiffs assert action should have been taken as early as 2018 when the rapper claimed slavery was a choice. Instead of accepting that their extended tolerance of Ye’s hateful speech would cause them economic harm, Adidas instead decided to sell all of the Yeezy stock they had, as normal. The company has stated a “significant amount” of profit will go to organizations including the Anti-Defamation League and the Floyd Institute for Social Change. It is unclear how much specifically will be donated. Ye has become a joke among the majority of Gen Z, with edits of Jonah Hill, memes of his outfits, and posts of silly moments abounding across social media platforms. With greenwashing and corporate pride a current topic of discussion, Adidas’ actions are yet another example of performative activism.
With June, we enter Pride Month. The culture war’s prevalence has dampened this celebration. A Twitter post by Lauren Elena Witzke, the Republican nominee for Delaware’s Senate seat, spelled out Pride Month with the letters DE MON emphasized. The original post was humorously copied by thousands. Some of the responses included Pride Month (RIDE ON), Bible (BBL and BL), Crucifixion (RU), and Jesus Christ (HRT). The intense negative commentary surrounding LGBTQ+ identities is harmful to many — especially the 20.8% of Gen Z that identify as queer. However, those within the community are seizing posts like Witzke’s as an opportunity to find fun and joy in a dark time.
One of the artists that defines Gen Z is Lizzo. Coming into stardom around 2016, when the average Gen Zer was 13, she has grown with us over the past several years. The “Truth Hurts” singer took to Twitter to call out fatphobic individuals last week. Following posts by @layahheilpern and @keeiiir that insinuate that Lizzo has an unhealthy lifestyle, she dropped a series of eight Tweets expressing her frustration. Lizzo stated, “BEING FAT ISN’T MY ‘BRAND’ … My ‘brand’ is FEEL GOOD MUSIC … CHAMPIONING ALL PEOPLE … BLACK GIRL LIBERATION.” She compared the responses to *her* feel-good and disco pop music and body positivity to reactions when “everybody on that wave.” The hate Lizzo receives on a daily basis pushed her to limit her Tweets to followers only. On TikTok, the singer made a video saying, “Everyone has been wondering, ‘What has Lizzo been eating?’ … The whole United States is up with this Yitty haul!” Amid the negative noise, Lizzo is serving positivity, always.
✨ IYKYK ✨
✨ With her “Dance the Night” song from “Barbie” out now, Dua Lipa is thriving. A clip of “Levitating” is going viral. For companies with brand mascots, this is especially applicable.
✨ “Dance Moms” lives rent-free in Gen Z’s mind. An audio of Abby Lee Miller is making its way around TikTok. If you’re unemployed, hungry, dirty, or sad, this sound is for you!
✨ What’s your beige flag? Beige flags are quirky traits that rest between a green and red flag. TikTok users are identifying their beige flags with this audio.
Screenshot of the Week
90% of (the 42 percent of) Gen Z diagnosed with a mental health condition have anxiety. Thus, discussions around this struggle resound with many members of the generation. @bankingslut Tweeted about anxious thoughts. Relatable much?!
As companies roll out their responses to OpenAI’s ChatGPT—such as Google’s Bard and Snap’s My AI—alarm bells are starting to ring. When AI pioneer Geoff Hinton quit Google this May to express concerns about AI growth, it felt like a scene straight out of a supervillain movie. But, in this case, we still have to decide who’s the bad guy.
We know young people are using this technology. When we checked in with the Receipt, our global network of 9,000+ Gen Zers, we found that 72% of respondents have used ChatGPT — with nearly 1 in 5 in this group using it at least daily.
Those using the service go to it most commonly for work tasks (38%), for getting questions answered (20%), or just for fun (13%).
As Gen Z uses ChatGPT for both work and play, we’re also figuring out how to do so responsibly. Gen Z has grown up in the era of creating technology because we can, not necessarily because we should. So, we’re asking tough questions like how we cite work that uses ChatGPT and how we contend with the biases that ChatGPT perpetuates.
How it works
Whether you’re using ChatGPT to write email copy or ‘your mom’ jokes, the question of who owns those thoughts is an important one.
In order to know who gets to claim ChatGPT’s outputs, we have to know where they come from. Simply put, ChatGPT uses a mega-statistical model to string thoughts together scraped from billions of media moments. Think, every tweet about Dramageddon and SNL cold opens being consumed by a massive database. (Truly terrifying). The AI then uses probability to string new outputs together. Although, unlike simple search queries, ChatGPT is able to remember what you’ve talked about before.
All of this to say, ChatGPT isn’t copying and pasting answers from the internet; it’s using billions of data points to take a guess at creating something new.
However, there is one key difference between AI and a person: accountability. An algorithm isn’t to blame when the guess goes wrong, people are.
Reckoning with a Flawed System
We know AI carries with it the same flaws and biases of its creators, and these flaws are the most human thing about it.
Photo Caption: How did ChatGPT get this so wrong? ChatGPT functions off of a probabilistic model, which means it’s taking a guess at facts based on how we’ve discussed them in our own media and data points. It all comes down to ChatGPT’s best guess.
In an article written by The Guardian, AI expert Meredith Broussard says, “I’m arguing that racism, sexism, and ableism are systemic problems that are baked into our technological systems because they’re baked into society.”
The issue at hand is not only the threat of spreading misinformation but also the impossible task of identifying who can be held accountable, especially when it relates to marginalized groups. It is sort of like asking who is responsible for institutionalized racism.
Photo Caption: When asked about the top Black creators on TikTok, ChatGPT failed to list exclusively Black creators. Not only is this factually incorrect, it also demonstrates the biases retained even in open AI systems.
ChatGPT, while an interesting approach to democratizing fast and efficient information, is also a vulnerable place for those who operate within one or many underrepresented groups of people.
Road to responsible AI
When we copy and paste results from AI into our professional and academic work, we are giving control over the narrative to a technology that lacks the ability to take responsibility for its output. Misinformation and cultural misrepresentation are just a couple of natural consequences of an amoral platform designed by imperfect (and sometimes immoral) humans.
So, it becomes our responsibility as users and contributors to AI platforms to 1) fact-check information gathered from platforms like ChatGPT, 2) insert our own critical understanding of issues into the output, and 3) take responsibility when things go wrong.
JUV Data Collection (The Receipt):
ChatGPT: March 30th, 2023 – 113 Respondents
Everyday goods that decorate our lives used to be separated by cultures and continents. Now, our goods are mass-produced, cheap, and disposable. A linear relationship between use and discard has been formed in the name of innovation, and young consumers are starting to reckon with this wasteful way of thinking.
Circularity has always been a part of human history. From repairing a pair of shoes to furniture exchanges with strangers on Facebook Marketplace—you may not have known it, but you were participating in a long legacy of consumption called, “the circular economy.”
Some communities are returning to traditional modes of creation to find solutions to modern problems. Using the processes passed down from their ancestors to connect back to their roots. Riley Kucheran of Ryerson University’s School of Fashion speaks on the episode “Indigenous Fashionology” from the Ologies podcast, where ‘what comes next’ for an article of clothing is baked into the creative process of making it.
We talk a lot about Gen Z’s love for nostalgia, but our embrace of circularity is not just another moment in a trend cycle. It’s a mode of creation that makes us feel more connected to the planet and to each other.
What is Circularity?
The best part about a circle? There’s no end in sight. This is the core of circularity in consumerism, where products can be reused, repaired, or recycled instead of being thrown away. This not-so-novel idea stands in direct opposition to the straight line between purchase and landfill that exists now.
Products are designed with their own end-of-life in mind. Once we’re done with the product, it gets put back into the supply chain.
TL;DR, waste not, want not.
Why is Gen Z Embracing Circularity?
While there is hardly ever a single source for a given movement, growing up in rooms filled with plastic trinkets while the world burns around us certainly contextualizes our perspective.
Having “sustainable” production is becoming increasingly meaningless as brands inundate us with greenwashing tactics. JUV found that 63% of Gen Z respondents find sustainability claims by brands to be trustworthy to some degree. By contrast, 78% of respondents found “circular” claims to be trustworthy.
Circularity provides an alternative to these claims of ‘going green’ because it’s all in the lifecycle of the product rather than solely the production happening behind closed doors.
According to DNV Risk Management, 53% of Gen Z is already participating in circular economies, and our findings suggest this proportion could be much larger as familiarity with the term ‘circularity’ increases. We found roughly half of our respondents were familiar with the term ‘circularity,’ but 97% had engaged with activities like thrifting, recycling, and repairing items that fall under the circular model.
These findings suggest that Gen Z is already on board with a circular economy, even if they don’t know exactly what that means.
Gen Z’s passion for thrifting has already prepared them to participate in and easily understand circularity. With trends in de-influencing and a looming recession, we’re looking at circularity through a new lens and realizing that reducing waste is not just good for the environment, but also for our wallets and lifestyles.
“Instead of constantly buying new clothes, most of my clothes are thrifted. If an [item] isn’t any good (torn, or just not good anymore), I cut it into pieces, and it is turned into a rag that can be used around the house instead of buying cleaning cloths.” – Gen Z Respondent
How can brands capture the wave of interest?
(Courtesy of Coach)
Brands are beginning to catch on to the circular model with buy-back programs or built-in reselling infrastructure. They’re also positioning circularity at the very front of their branding and ethos.
Coach’s newest sub-brand, “Coachtopia,” is harnessing more than 80 years of Coach leather expertise to make beautiful things according to their Made Circular design philosophy.
Meaning, reimagining waste as a valuable raw material and working backward, crafting products from recycled, repurposed, or renewable materials and designing them to live multiple lives. Gen Z is responding to it, not only commenting on the circular process of Coachtopia’s products but also the look and feel of the pieces, resulting in the collection selling out. Not once; twice.
Here’s what to keep in mind as a brand capturing this momentum:
- Talk with young people about their wants and needs in the circular economy—some products are more of an organic fit than others.
- Break down the predisposition that old = bad and new = good.
- Consider whether your brand can engage meaningfully with circularity and make changes to get there. If not, how can you engage with sustainability marketing in an honest way?
JUV Data Collection (The Receipt):
Circularity: May 11th, 2023 – 94 Respondents
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): March 17th, 2023 – 103 Respondents