Climate Change and How To Get Gen Z To Give A F**k

What a world we’re handing down to future generations. A pandemic shut down the world, a derecho cost Iowa multi-billions of dollars, and California’s conflagration set 1m acres ablaze and sent a blanket of smoke across the western states. 

Climate change is undeniable in 2020. But as recently as last year when things felt “normal,” it was easy to feel removed from the issues when our daily lives were not yet impacted by global warming. Out of sight, out of mind, despite the crisis approaching from behind.

“We realize that there is a new generation coming up, and that they’re the ones who are going to have to deal with more severe effects of climate change,” said Mazdack Rassi, Milk’s Co-Founder. “It’s in their hands. We’ve been lucky enough to develop our community with some incredible young minds, young artists, who are hungry to help. We feel it’s important to speak to them now and energize them now while we have this incredible but limited opportunity to help save our planet. Climate change isn’t the future, it’s happening right now.”

Just last year, Milk Agency worked with The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to create Unfortunately, Ready To Wear in partnership with Luka Sabbat, an experience aimed at raising awareness on 5 key threats – air pollution, extreme storms, heatwaves, infectious diseases and environmental refugees. It was also developed to address low engagement from Gen Z on these issues.

Unfortunately, Ready To Wear Campaign, credit: Noah Dillon

The question was, how do we get Gen Z to engage and shift their behaviors? Simply put, how do we get them to care? Our award winning partnership with NRDC taught us a few things: 

1. Co-create with a prominent Gen Z-er who cares. 

As Noah Dillon, Gen Z photographer and Luka collaborator, said, “All these corporations are trying to market stuff to people our age and yet they are refusing to let us create it for them.”2 

Gen Z grew up media savvy – they can sniff out the contrived from a mile away. The makers in their ranks are also eager to collaborate. Partnering with someone their age who cares ensures that organizations are able to connect with young people, authentically. 

With Luka Sabbat, we brought him up to speed on the issues by developing an educational-yet-cool deck, gave him some ground rules and goals around what the NRDC wanted to create, and then set him up with the resources he needed to design a clothing line imagined for an apocalyptic future.  

2. Dial down the negativity, pump up the fun. 

It’s essential to encourage people to participate without overwhelming them, and it’s been studied that the best way to do so is via entertainment.3 Scare tactics and guilt trips are the tricks of the old guard environmentalists; new gen activism is focused on driving actions by engaging people through enjoyable means. 

With Unfortunately, Ready To Wear, we created an IRL experience to immerse people in learning about what life might look or feel like in a world riddled by climate-related disasters. The event was made to feel like an unveiling of a capsule collection at a New York Fashion Week launch party, while making teaching moments part of the event. We heated the gallery up to 100 degrees to simulate a likely future if carbon levels continue to rise unchecked, and created Instagram GIFs and icon stickers representing each of the key environmental threats to keep it engaging. In the pandemic era, organizations can leverage virtual events to provide an entertaining experience. Activism, but make it fashion. 

3. Making it last: clear action items with a spoonful of sugar 

Of course, when battling climate disasters, it’s not just about the big, fun events. The work must be always-on to affect real change. 

Set Gen Z up for success with clear calls to action – to continue the conversation, to spread the word and encourage them to organize within their communities. Whether it’s getting them to share a post on Instagram, participate in taking the pledge, or join the cause and become an advocate, make sure the next steps are laid out clearly. 

And of course, given the opportunity and tools to generate their own engaging activations, they might even create their own fun and sexy micro-activations. 

Unfortunately, experts predict that natural disasters are only going to get worse.1 Increasingly, we will need to tackle these problems even when they feel abstract and a world away from our realities that we’ve built around convenience. Tapping the talents and efforts of the next generation will ensure that these efforts can and will continue, on their terms. 


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