Lessons from The Lorax: how brands can engage the most eco-conscious generation

Dr Seuss is one of the most successful children’s authors of all time. His legendary tales continue to enchant kids and adults alike around the world today - not least because they still contain valuable and pertinent wisdom.


One of Dr. Seuss’ most famous stories chronicles the plight of The Lorax, a small fuzzy being who “speaks for the trees”. The tale depicts how he and a young boy confront the Once-ler together, a man who causes environmental destruction by cutting down Truffula trees and building large, polluting factories.

The story is a fable which illustrates the destructive impact humans can have on nature. With wit, charm, rhymes and illustrations, Dr Seuss encourages readers to take personal care and responsibility for the environment. 

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." 

- Dr Seuss, The Lorax, 1971 

It has been fifty years since Dr Seuss published this cautionary tale. But the lessons it teaches are more relevant than ever. And whilst the children who first read it have now grown into adults - there is a new generation who are heeding the wisdom of the Lorax’s words. 

 

The rise of eco-anxiety

Young people today have grown up immersed in the issue of climate change. But alongside this awareness comes anxiety. Anxiety about the future, the environment, the extinction of species. Anxiety about the role their generation has in correcting our course.  

When asked about their futures, almost three in five (58%) children said they're worried about the impact that climate change will have on their lives.

Four out of five of them (80%) said the problem of climate change was important to them, with over a third saying it was very important.

Just three out of every 100 said that the environment wasn't important to them.

Young people are more connected than any generation before them. Through social media, they see stories of Amazon and Australia, ice melting in the Antarctic and Arctic, sea temperatures rising and plastic destroying wildlife in the oceans. Equally they see campaigners, from David Attenborough to Greta Thunberg, stressing the need for urgent change. 

“We continually receive cues of both threat and safety from our context. If we are receiving a stream of information regarding the negative impact of climate change globally on the world and its inhabitants, then the uncertainty of the context that we are living in can increase the sense of threat we experience.”

“We know some anxiety around climate change is reasonable and increased awareness can be helpful and functional in encouraging individuals to make conscious sustainable choices.” 

“However, the anxiety experienced can become unhelpful and debilitating when individuals feel they have limited agency in change, and a sense of helplessness grows. ”

- Dr Stephanie Davis, Chartered Clinical Psychologist, Oakwood Agency

These anxieties have significant implications for brands. Especially as they evolve from anxiety into action. 

 

Cause marketing and the role of brands in demonstrating change 

COVID-19 has sparked an era of profound societal change. And within this change lies an opportunity to craft a more sustainable future. 

A report from Accenture found that 60% of consumers are making more environmentally friendly, sustainable or ethical purchases since the start of the pandemic, with nine out of 10 of these consumers saying they’ll continue to do so.

“If the context we are living in induces a sense of threat in relation to climate change, then utilizing our ability to make environmentally minded choices increases our sense of autonomy and influence. 

Holding a sense of hope and concern about the environment positively influences engagement in Pro Environmental Behaviour (PEB) (Stevenson & Peterson, 2015), and further meta-analyses found that engaging in PEB was then positively associated with subjective well being (Zawadzki et al., 2020). We all have a role to play in accelerating this behavioural loop that is positive for all parties: brands, consumers and the environment alike.” 

- Dr Stephanie Davis, Chartered Clinical Psychologist, Oakwood Agency

 

This change is in some part being driven by pressure from their children. Research from HiPP Organic found that 57% of parents think their children know more about sustainable living than they do, with recycling, global warming and pollution being the practises parents are least knowledgeable about.

The report found that almost three quarters (72%) of parents have been reprimanded by their children for unsustainable practises such as using too much water (30%), using too much plastic (32%) and not recycling correctly (30%).

This generation is setting new standards for sustainable consumerism. Brands will need to ensure that all their practices, from licensing to supply chain to marketing, meet and exceed these standards. 

This is a generation which is loyal to the brand who understands their needs. They want to see brands with products, processes and purposes that actively look to make a difference environmentally. 

A recent report found that 90% of Gen Z said they have made changes to be more sustainable in their daily lives, with 60% adding they are driven by a brand reducing its footprint and a further 45% are influenced by brands using eco-friendly materials.

For both children and adults, the rhymes of Dr Seuss have never been so salient. There is a clear need for imminent change and sustainability has to be viewed with the same importance in the C-suite as it is in the classroom. Because brands cannot afford for this generation to view them as the Once-ler who betrayed The Lorax.

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