Generation Z and its Potential Impacts on the Energy Industry
Jun 17, 2019
Who is Generation Z?
Generation Z are defined as the children and young adults born from around 1995-2012. They now make up more than one-fifth of the US population and economically, they consume a lot. They are a diverse group of digital natives that can wield social media influence to create change.
McKinsey found that Gen Z’s behavior is based on their motivation to find truth and authenticity.* They prefer individual expression over labels. The emphasis on identity means they eschew stereotypes and experiment with how to be themselves, making changes like an “identity nomad.” As a result, they seem more interested than previous generations in human rights, race, sexual orientation, and gender. Having been exposed to technology their entire lives, they are willing to accept diverse points of view and cross-reference many sources of information in the search for truth. This led me to wonder, how are they feeling about the environment, climate change, and the energy industry?
Riley Griffin, in Bloomberg, says they are threatening businesses like malls, print magazines, American football, and cash. And this impact on business is creating challenges. Tracy Francis and Fernanda Hoefel of McKinsey boil it down to three implications for companies to note:
- Consumption as access rather than possession
- Consumption as an expression of individual identity
- Consumption as a matter of ethical concern
“Businesses must rethink how they deliver value to the consumer, rebalance scale and mass production against personalization, and—more than ever—practice what they preach when they address marketing issues and work ethics,” they said.
Ready to Talk About Climate Change?
This generation will inherit the world we have created. They will bear the brunt of profound changes to the environment. A world that last year saw a new record high in global carbon emissions.
With consumption tied to ethics, Gen Zers will expect brands to take a stand. Not out of political-correctness, but as a measure of ideals and transparency (again, Truth). If your company advertises that it uses 100% renewable energy, and that is not actually the case, prepare for them to notice and bring it to light on social media.
Gen Zers recognize climate change is a problem that impacts young and old alike, no matter where you live. In fact, in a 2016 study by Masdar, Gen Z respondents ranked climate change as the greatest challenge “in the next decade” — greater than the economy, terrorism, unemployment or poverty. Will this be the generation that gets more utilities to be vocal about climate change?
There Will Be Activists
There is a global youth climate movement, and it’s growing. USA Today has reported many forms of climate change activism from this age group including demonstrations from the Sunrise Movement, Zero Hour, Youth for Climate, and #FridaysForFuture. Business Insider attributes youth activism to recent climate strikes and the highly-contentious Green New Deal (which, though voted down initially, is still being referenced often.)
Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swede, who recently made headlines for speaking in front of the United Nations, the Vatican, the COP24 conference in Poland, and the World Economic Forum, has shocked people worldwide with potent emotional rhetoric:
“You say you love your children above all else – and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes,” she told global leaders during the climate summit. “Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope. We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis,” she added.
Greta started a worldwide student strike last year, The Youth Strike for Climate Movement, which had millions of students in 123 countries walking out of classes to protest climate change inaction. In March 2019, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Will they Value Careers in Oil & Gas?
Heather Domjam of The University of Houston STEM Center notes that young people may have a negative opinion toward the Oil & Gas industries, inconveniently “at a time when the industry is facing a growing demand for new workers.” They see oil and gas as on the way out and that the industry is more a “problem maker than problem solver.” Gen Zers desire salary, good work-life balance, and job stability. In oil and gas executives’ eyes however, only salary is a strength of the industry.
Generally this generation sees a future filled with renewable energy. In the EY Oil and Gas US Perceptions Study, 66% of teens responded that a job working in green energy is appealing.
Domjam believes the views of Gen Z have been tinged by negative media on oil spills and emissions, however, remember that this is a generation for which ethics are very important. One thing is for sure, if Oil & Gas want to educate this group on the benefits and innovation in the industry, they had better take to social media. As truth-seekers, this generation will see through spin (for example, the recent “freedom gas” LNG rebranding by the U.S. DOE). They will see through attempts to win them over, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end for Oil & Gas. One of Domjam’s great suggestions is “a massive career awareness media campaign highlighting the variety of jobs within the industry could expose students to the possibilities. When was the last time you saw a commercial about careers in the energy industry?” And we should always remember that each generation is made up of individuals. While there will be trends, individuals from the same generation will, of course, not all think and act in the same way.
Seeing Value in Stability
Here’s some good news for corporations: because they were raised at a time of economic stress (unlike Millennials who had prosperity), Gen Zers tend to value having a steady job within an established company rather than wanting to freelance or start their own business. They are also more risk averse when it comes to debt. This is a generation that cares about making a difference, but is motivated by ensuring they have a secure life.
Employers that demonstrate to Gen Zers that they can help them reach career goals by focusing on growth -- training, mentorship, and a trajectory path -- will be more likely to have a loyal, long-term employee.
Love for Data
The energy sector continuously collects large amounts of data on both the supply and demand side. But all this data is not helpful unless it is used in a way that benefits both the collector of the data and the end user of the product or service.
Utilities should take note of the advantages that advanced analytics techniques will hold for this generation, thanks to their focus on identity and love of customization:
“Meanwhile, we are entering the “segmentation of one” age now that companies can use advanced analytics to improve their insights from consumer data. Customer information that companies have long buried in data repositories now has strategic value, and in some cases information itself creates the value. Leading companies should therefore have a data strategy that will prepare them to develop business insights by collecting and interpreting information about individual consumers while protecting data privacy.” - McKinskey
This generation isn’t moved by neutrality, and they can maneuver the digital world with ease. Gen Zers have grown up connected to the world and are motivated by instant gratification.
To remain relevant with this generation, the energy industry will need to tell authentic stories, be relevant and engaging, and reach them fast—meaning you need to be visible and engaged with the media outlets they turn to (i.e. social media, podcasts, etc.). The focus on truth and ethics seems very hopeful for the future and will be great for industries that can easily comply and tap into the feel-good emotional realm. It will undoubtedly change the landscape of marketing and customer experience in many industries, including ours. We can start by continuing to talk about what we do that is good for the environment, how we are improving the industry, the problems we are solving, and what we hope for the future.
*Conducted a survey with Box1824 in 3 major cities in Brazil.