Social Media: Most Common, Least Trusted Source for Sustainability Education

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(Credit: EY)

by | Jun 12, 2023

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A recent report by the EY organization, in partnership with JA Worldwide, has shed light on the educational sources and attitudes toward sustainability among younger generations.

The Generational Sustainability Survey questioned more than 1,200 participants across generations from 72 countries, revealing a surprising trend: social media has become the primary source of sustainability education for Gen Z (1997-2012) and Gen Alpha (2013- present), despite being the least trusted source.

The Rise of Social Media in Sustainability Education

More than half of Gen Z (51%) and nearly half of Gen Alpha (44%) rely on social media platforms for their education on sustainability issues, surpassing the influence of traditional schooling. However, social media lags behind television news and formal education in terms of trustworthiness across all generations.

While social media dominates as an information source, a significant portion of both Gen Z and Gen Alpha express a desire to receive sustainability knowledge from schools and teachers. This suggests that younger generations recognize the limitations of social media and value the credibility and guidance offered by educational institutions.

Generation Gap in Climate Action

While younger generation respondents express greater satisfaction with their knowledge of global sustainability issues compared to older generations, they demonstrate a lower level of preparedness to take concrete steps to combat climate change.

Gen X (1965-1980) and millennials (1981-1996) show a higher willingness to make changes in their daily lives to be more sustainable, with 64% and 65% respectively showing a high level of commitment. In contrast, less than half of Gen Alpha (43%) and Gen Z (44%) respondents are prepared to make the same level of commitment. The cost of achieving a sustainable lifestyle was identified as the primary barrier to increased sustainability by nearly half of all respondents.

Collaboration for Environmental Literacy

The report also emphasizes the critical role of corporations, government bodies, and nonprofit organizations in partnering with schools to develop ongoing activities that provide students with first-hand experiences related to environmental sustainability. More than three-quarters of Gen Alpha and Gen Z respondents believe that education plays a critically important role in helping them lead more sustainable lives, highlighting the demand for improved standards of environmental education.

Julie Linn Teigland, EY EMEIA Area Managing Partner, said the need for collaborative efforts among various organizations to elevate the environmental literacy of young people. Coordinated actions to improve education and training, specifically tailored to engage younger generations, are critical for increasing sustainable transitions.

Building Toward Sustainable Transitions

To further environmental literacy, the report provides several recommendations.

Firstly, organizations need to address misinformation on social media and promote trusted sources of content. Secondly, there is a need to reduce the cost of a sustainable lifestyle, making it more accessible and encouraging widespread adoption. Lastly, organizations must prioritize sustainability and environmental literacy to effectively prepare the next-generation workforce.

By addressing the limitations of social media, amplifying trusted sources of content, and providing engaging sustainability-related education, we can harness the energy of younger generations and pave the way for a more sustainable future.

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