Boomer Think Thank: The Impact of Consumer Ethics

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Our experience with our Millennial Think Tank has taught us that Millennials are most likely to purchase goods that align with their personal ethical choices; on this Boomer Think Tank we’ll focus on how ethics impact Boomer purchasing behavior.

We started our discussion with these statistics from Abacus Data:

• 2/3 of Boomers say they will purchase products that align with their values
• 31% of Boomers describe themselves as socially conscious consumers
• 85% of Boomers say it’s important that their work contributes to good
• 85% of Boomers are willing to switch brands if another brand matches their values

This week our panel included:

Bev Lesnick – coffee house owner, investee, and former small town gal
Joseph Grier – LearnGrow llc and long-time Californian environmentalist
Gaye Freedman – owner of Laughing Goddess and change maker

You can view the hangout in its entirety here, or read on for a recap:

Each of our Boomers made it very clear that social and ethical values influence their consumer and private life choices, and that their choices would be reflected as being environmentally and socially conscious. We delved in with the following questions:

What shaped you as an ethical consumer?

When asked what made them become “ethical consumers,” all of our participants cited their upbringing and experiences in their formative years as impacting their socially conscious decision making. Joseph brought up the fact that his home town started movements like Earth Day and that when he grew up he witnessed the Boycott of Grapes, saying:

 “It highlighted that what you put on your tables is on the backs of really hard labor.”

Gaye had a powerful statement:

“I remember marching in the streets [during the Civil Rights Movement] and that very much defines me.”

What are the Biggest Tools for change?

While each of our participants believe that making ethical spending choices manifests itself through choosing particular products, they each stressed the importance of NOT buying specific products as well.

“Economy boycott was one of our first tools for social change. When we choose to stop buying a product, we are making a strong social stand based on social values. Look at the DOW Chemical boycotts during Vietnam.”

They were sheltered before mass media

It was evident that the biggest factor in ethical consumption is the awareness of social cause, and it is clear that the mass media boom that began with television was the largest determinate of ethical consumption for Boomers.

Bev, growing up in a small town in the Midwest, openly shared that unless you had a family member enlisted, you didn’t talk about the Vietnam War. It wasn’t until after she left her small town and moved to a larger city that she became aware of the social issues going on around her every day.

Gaye also made it clear that when television became a common household item, there were only four channels, and it changed everything. She emphasized how fantastic it was that Millennials grew up with access to the Internet.

Are Millennials carrying the torch?

Unlike the usual stereotype of Boomers being unimpressed with Millennials, there was abundant praise by our panelists on the ethical and social choices of Millennials.

Bev was thankful that she was able to show her children the world and make them aware of social causes. Joseph brought up how injustice and inequality have not gone away, but Boomers started making stands and making personal choice to aid in social change; watching Millennials further these causes just adds to this legacy.

Gaye said it best:

“In the 60s, I believed that boycotts and marching would change everything, but as I grow older I realize that the forces of evil are just getting smarter and our old methods are not working. I thought Millennials didn’t care because they weren’t marching, but I know now that Millennials are clever as they use media and use Twitter, blogs, Facebook, etc. and are just doing our work but in a smarter way.”

It is obvious that a new kind of mass media continues to spearhead change, be it the radio, television, or the Internet. Our panel made it very clear that the issues that determine social and ethical consumption have not changed since they were growing up. And while the methods of information sharing and boycotting have, the newer generations are taking up Boomer causes with as much gusto as they did in the 60s and 70s.


  • Boomers are very proud of their history of agitating for social change, but they don’t think the job is completed.
  • Purchasing decisions are definitely seen as a tool to make a social statement by our panel; any brand who thinks social responsibility is the sole territory of the younger set is sadly mistaken, and we would remind them that Boomers still hold the majority of the wealth in the US.
  • Millennials are NOT the enemy; rather than the stereotypical complaining about Millennials, our Boomers are enthusiastic at how GenY is advocating for change via social and digital media.

Join us on April 8th at 8 pm EST for the next Boomer Think Tank on Technology and Family Life.

About our think tanks:

At ArCompany we  analyze data gathered from social media, websites, forums and search. This research helps inform and guide the communication efforts of many brands. If you want to learn more about implementing meaningful insights, we’re here to help.

Photo credit: prop 8 protest via photopin (license).

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