Issuing a wake-up call to politicians and society overall, Fridays for Future demonstrators in Germany are often heard chanting the slogan, “We’re here, we’re loud, because you’re stealing our future!” Many of them are worried about the future and fear they will face an unfair burden being left behind by older generations. They call for sustainable, intergenerational policies and economic systems that do not come at the expense of their or future generations, as the lack of sustainability in society today will impact them in particular. They will be hit hard by the negative effects of our current failures – the consequences of which we have only begun to see. Yet largely due to demographic factors, their capacity to influence this development is limited.
The key findings of the survey
What exactly do young people associate with the topic of sustainability and to what extent are they prepared to commit themselves to doing something about it, both in their personal lives and in society more broadly? Our representative survey of 16- to 30-year-olds shows:
- Three-quarters (76%) of all youth and young adults surveyed attach considerable importance to sustainable behavior. They try hard to engage in sustainable behavior in their daily lives and are prepared to make sacrifices if necessary. The most commonly cited lifestyle changes among young people include wasting less food (76%) and making a concerted effort to save water and energy or reduce waste (59%). Nearly one-half of the young people surveyed report using public transportation or their bicycle for everyday mobility (48%). Just over four out of ten respondents report that they avoid using flights for domestic travel, and the same share reports eating less meat or none whatsoever.
- Young people who attach importance to sustainable behavior often have friends and parents with similar feelings on this issue. When young people are asked who has influenced them in terms of their attitude toward sustainability, just under one-third (31%) identify people from their immediate circle of friends, and just under a quarter (23%) point to their own parents. People from their broader circle of acquaintances and role models found on digital media (e.g., influencers, youtubers or internet (lifestyle) coaches) are named just as frequently (23% each). Politicians, on the other hand, rarely play a role in this regard (11%). Young people who do not attach importance to sustainability often lack role models (46%).
- Almost half (49%) of the young people polled stated that they could imagine doing volunteer work aimed at strengthening sustainability, but only 5% are currently involved in any specific activity. Role models also play an important role here. Young people who identify activists (69%) or teachers and supervisors from school, training and the workplace (62%) as role models are significantly more likely to volunteer or already do so.
- Young people can see themselves getting involved by working together with others. Participatory opportunities in everyday life that are organized at the local level, such as those offered by local schools/training centers/workplaces (48%), are particularly attractive. Projects organized together with friends or like-minded people are also very attractive (32%). Most young people find existing formats for political participation rather unattractive. Only 16% see themselves becoming a member of a political party and only 9% can imagine becoming active in local youth parliaments.