Materialism, Step Aside: A Reflection of the New American Dream

Every once in a while, we ask one of our colleagues to review a sustainability-related book. This time, former SSC intern (and current sustainability consultant in the Bay Area) Diana Wilkinson reviews John Zogby's book, The Way We'll Be.

John Zogby’s book, “The Way We’ll Be” takes a logical and convincing statistical approach to characterizing the new generation of American youth, albeit lacking some essential conclusive elements.  Zogby asserts that the current generation of 18-29 year olds is comprised of passionate individuals with a very progressive social, environmental, and global mindset.  Zogby calls this group First Globals and points out that there is an engrained sense of responsibility to local and global communities that is not present to the same extent in prior generations.  He makes a distinction between this newfound responsibility and broader “liberalism,” making it clear that this generation has decided that the previous decades of avid consumerism are not for them.  Rather, First Globals are aware that they do not exist in a bubble and that their actions have lasting and reverberating repercussions.

Zogby uses his new conceptualization of First Globals as a way to demonstrate to organizations that there is an emergent breed of consumer that requires a new approach to marketing and communication.  He writes, “Money matters, no doubt, to just about all of us to one degree or another, but to many of us, it matters less than we once thought it would.”  This very important consumer group will need to be marketed to with much more than price discounts; it represents a generation that cares about authenticity and has a new vision of responsibility.  Polling conducted by Zogby’s company reveals that, “people are [consistently] well ahead of political leaders in their willingness to tone down acquisitiveness in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”  First Globals are willing to actually engage in the concept of quality over quantity.  They are looking for companies with an inherent sense of good, be it social or environmental, and are eager to hear the larger story.  This means that marketers need to be cognizant that they are speaking to a group with a global mindset and a goal of achieving real and measurable ecological sustainability.

This vision of citizenship in a global community is something that has influenced not only individual consumerism, but also the investing community.  Zogby reveals that, “in every case, the investors opted for companies that are loyal to their communities, pay fair salaries, hire women and minorities, and maintain good environmental standards over simply strong market performance.”  This generation wants to create and live in a more ethical business world, and its constituents are willing to act on these aspirations in order to create the change they desire.

Normally described as a hedonistic group, the First Global generation, as it turns out, has a new and larger understanding of our increasingly global society than most have credited it with in the past.  Zogby uses his book as a tool to demonstrate to companies and their marketers that this group is much more conscious than its predecessors.  Much of the change demanded by First Globals can be accomplished if these groups can work in tandem. The key, of course, will be to find a way to make all of this not just environmentally sustainable, but financially stable as well.

While this book does present many compelling statistics pursuant to the future of the First Global generation, it does not come to any forceful conclusions or specific steps to which companies should adhere.  I would have liked Zogby to use his considerable experience to make some concrete arguments and suggestions so that readers have more key takeaways on how we can all help in the betterment of our global society.