The cover story of Tuesday's USA Today Life featured an article on the millennials.  I have referred to them as the "IM Generation" on previous blog entries, borrowing Tony Perkin's naming.  This story struck a cord with me on multiple levels, especially this part:

• 61% of 13- to 25-year-olds feel personally responsible for making a difference in the world, suggests a survey of 1,800 young people to be released today. It says 81% have volunteered in the past year; 69% consider a company's social and environmental commitment when deciding where to shop, and 83% will trust a company more if it is socially/environmentally responsible. The online study — by two Boston-based companies, Cone Inc. and AMP Insights — suggests these millennials are "the most socially conscious consumers to date."

This is a very good trend for Bill Bass and our friends at Fair Indigo (read Sam's interview of Bill here).  Bill couldn't have had better timing on launching this new business.

This research also provides more context around Richard Branson's decision to donate 100% of profits from his travel companies in the Virgin Group to go towards the research of alternative, low-polluting fuel for travel.  Regardless of why Mr. Branson made this decision, whether it is motivated to reach the millennials or whether it is an epiphany he had about his impact on the earth's resources or both doesn't matter.  You have to applaud him either way.

The USA Today article talks about how this generation has grown up during the extremely trying aftermath of 9/11.  And it has impacted their behavior forever.  They are also growing up during a time where there are escalating fears about our footprint on the earth.  I saw a variation of this article last night on Yahoo's homepage.  No wonder they are getting more civically involved than any recent generation.  Depleted of resources completely in only 44 years?

The opportunity here is for companies to both do good for the environment and reach the millennials (the next generation of 100 million consumers that are about to have serious spending power).  I can't imagine a better set of ingredients for a positive word-of-mouth spark, and companies like Fair Indigo, Virgin, and Wal-Mart (see my previous post) are very smart to capitalize on this.  It both feels right and you make more money – we need more movements like this in this post-Enron environment.  Companies are facing a growing generation of the most educated, jaded, rich, and socially conscious consumers ever.  If you aren't thinking about this yet, you should be.  There is a massive market shift underway, but we are just at the beginning of it.

Now, to end on an optimistic note.  I have said it before, and I will remind you again.  I am a technology optimist.  There are many opportunities here for new ventures to capitalize on alternative energy, nanotechnology, and biotechnology to both reverse this trend and become rich heroes in the process.  Kleiner Perkins, the VC with the highest returns in the world, isn't dumb.  Read this article about John Doerr in BusinessWeek.  The opportunity is staggering and ripe for positive word-of-mouth.

And, finally, a special thanks to Kelly Mooney for giving the best keynote of the Shop.org Annual Summit a few weeks ago.  Sam already wrote a summary of the Summit, but there was no doubt that Kelly's research on the "digital millennials" was the most insightful presentation of the show.  I am honored to be speaking at her conference, iCitizen, tomorrow in Columbus, Ohio.

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