Ahead of the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), a new poll of U.S. Millennials and Gen Z, conducted by communications firm Edelman, reveals they are worried about a number of global issues including climate change, poverty and hunger. They are also ready to take personal and professional action to address those challenges, but, while they’re supportive of the role of the United Nations, they don’t fully understand the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The clock is ticking for the achievement of the 2030 agenda set by the UN to meet the 17 SDGs. The study reveals that youth in the U.S. demonstrate strong support of the organization, with 80 percent favorability, but are unfamiliar with the purpose of the Sustainable Development Goals. In fact, only 30 percent of respondents confirmed knowledge of the SDGs, demonstrating the need and opportunity for the UN to better communicate the purpose and ambitions of the SDGs; 84 percent of U.S. youth are overwhelmingly in agreement that the UN needs to do more to connect with younger generations.

Despite their lack of knowledge about the 17 SDGs, climate action (33 percent), poverty (28 percent) and zero hunger (28 percent) topped the list of the most pressing issues for Millennials and Gen Z. Gender equality (15 percent) ranked the lowest. In addition, respondents look to the UN (31 percent) to address these challenges more so than governments (24 percent), civil society (13 percent), NGOs (10 percent) or business in general (7 percent), putting trust on the organization to close the gap.

“The youth trusts the UN to help solve world challenges due to its role as a global organization that pushes a positive, forward-looking agenda with critical stakeholders,” said Debora Murray, group head of Edelman’s International Public Affairs practice in Washington, D.C. “But the research also shows that youth in America put greater trust in traditional media channels - TV news (50 percent) and newspapers (42 percent) - to deliver news about the SDGs, while trust in social media (32 percent) is middling. As communicators, it is fascinating to see that young Americans still lean on traditional news outlets related to the SDGs for quality content as the prevalence of fake news on social media platforms has a direct impact on trust.”

Impact of climate change concerns the younger generation

In a deeper dive, the poll shows that more than nine in ten Millennials and Gen Z are overwhelmingly concerned about the human causes of climate change, with pollution (65 percent), deforestation (53 percent) and greenhouse gas emissions (46 percent) topping the list. And they are willing to speak out and take action, both personally and professionally, to combat climate change, with 96 percent of respondents showcasing a willingness to help. Conversely, they are eager to support companies doing the right thing to address the potential impact of climate change, with 57 percent stating they’d purchase the company’s products. They can also be brand advocates, as 51 percent would tell others to purchase the company’s products and 39 percent would not support competitors.

“Younger Americans want to hold companies accountable for climate change,” said Ana Zenatti, senior vice president, Edelman's Reputation practice in New York. “This demonstrates sustainable practices have to be a part of any company’s core practices. To ignore it will have detrimental effects.”

According to the research, respondents would not invest (45 percent) in a company that is not doing the right thing, supporting a more sustainable competitor (42 percent) or even not taking a job offer from that specific organization (41 percent). “At the same time, this is an incredible opportunity for companies who are doing the right thing on climate change as this has a very positive impact on their brand in the eyes of young consumers,” said Zenatti. 

Edelman interviewed 1,000 young Americans, ages 16-22 (Gen Z) and ages 23-38 (Millennials), this past August ahead of the 74th UN General Assembly. For additional information, please reference this infographic

About Edelman

Edelman is a global communications firm that partners with businesses and organizations to evolve, promote and protect their brands and reputations. Our 6,000 people in more than 60 offices deliver communications strategies that give our clients the confidence to lead and act with certainty, earning the trust of their stakeholders. Our honors include the Cannes Lions Grand Prix for PR; Advertising Age’s 2019 A-List; the Holmes Report’s 2018 Global Digital Agency of the Year; and, five times, Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work. Since our founding in 1952, we have remained an independent, family-run business. Edelman owns specialty companies Edelman Intelligence (research) and United Entertainment Group (entertainment, sports, lifestyle).