A survey of almost 11,000 adults this summer revealed that American attitudes about energy production and environmental protections are divided as much along generational lines as political lines, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Millennial and Generation Z Republicans (those currently 19 to 40 years old) are more likely than older Republicans to think humans play a large role in climate change and that the U.S. should focus on renewable energy over oil and coal.

The environmental attitudes of these younger Republicans show that they have more in common with the majority of the country than their Republican elders, though the party overall is much less likely to agree that human activity plays a large role in climate change.

Renewal Energy Expansion Enjoys Bipartisan Support

Strong majorities of both Democrats and Republicans agree that the country should focus on developing alternate energy sources rather than fossil fuel sources. Solar power farms have the strongest bipartisan support, with 94% of Democrats in favor and 80%-88% of Republicans (Boomers 80%, Millennials 88%)¹. The next most favored energy source to expand is wind.

Compared with a year prior, "support for prioritizing alternative energy development appears to be up among both Democrats and Republicans," wrote Cary Funk and Meg Hefferon in U.S. Public Views on Climate Change. "Overall, about three-quarters of Americans (77%) agree that the more important energy priority should be developing alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power and hydrogen technology rather than increasing U.S. production of fossil fuels."

Younger Republicans have energy attitudes more aligned with their Democratic peers than their elders.

A majority of Millennial Republicans believe the federal government isn't doing enough to protect water quality (57%), air quality (53%), and animal habitats (52%). These percentages are all roughly 20% greater than Republicans of the Baby Boomer generation and older. The attitudes of the generation in between, Gen X, generally fall in between too, tracing the generational divide.

"Republicans in the United States are divided by generation on key questions related to climate, environmental protection, and energy production," wrote Cary Funk and Alec Tyson in Millennial and Gen Z Republicans Stand Out From Their Elders on Climate and Energy Issues. "Millennial and Gen Z Republicans also are more likely than older Republicans to say climate change is having at least some impact on their local community (43% vs. 33%) and that the federal government is doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change (49% vs. 25%)."

62% of U.S. adults say they see at least some effect of climate change where they live, with the vast majority saying they witness longer periods of unusually hot weather.

The Under-40 Set Puts Its Money Where Its Mouth Is

Millennial has been synonymous with young for so long that it bears stating that the first members of that generation turned 40 this year. Millennials have children and mortgages. Still, it is an accurate umbrella term for the under-40 set because the generation growing up behind them, Gen Z, shares so many of the same attitudes as Millennials.

These people aren't just keen on protecting the environment and exploring and expanding renewable energy sources, as the aforementioned surveys showed—they put their money where their mouth is. Nielson conducted a global online survey and found that Millennials and Gen Z continue to be most willing to pay extra for sustainable offers.

"Brands that establish a reputation for environmental stewardship among today’s youngest consumers have an opportunity to not only grow market share but build loyalty among the power-spending Millennials of tomorrow, too,” said Grace Farraj, SVP, Public Development & Sustainability, Nielsen.

Attributes most important in influencing responders of the global survey to pay a premium are: (1) the environmental responsibility of the company; (2) the freshness and wholesomeness of product ingredients; (3) and the company "being known for its commitment to social value."

Brands that use both product claims and integrated sustainability marketing promotions dominate these three markets:

  • Baby food (85% of market)
  • Coffee (78%)
  • Snacks (60%)

But the percentage of Baby Boomers who also say they are willing to pay extra has gone up 7% since the last Nielson survey, "so don't abandon Baby Boomers in the quest for Millennials," Farrah advised companies.