iStock’s Head of Creative Insights on why marketers across Europe need to recognise that sustainability is now a cultural value

iStock’s Head of Creative Insights on why marketers across Europe need to recognise that sustainability is now a cultural value

Despite the impact of the pandemic, issues around climate change and sustainability have still remained a top concern among consumers. Indeed, according to recent research from our Visual GPS platform, 84% of UK consumers expect companies and brands to be environmentally aware in all of their advertising and communications. The concern spans businesses of all sizes and across industries, with recent UK searches on iStock showing terms such as green transport up 518%, sustainable energy up 38% and sustainable construction up 1100%.

While Greta Thunberg became the face of climate activism for the young, it’s a mistake to think that only Gen Z’s are passionate about the environment. Indeed, 87% of UK consumers across all ages stated that when making decisions on companies to do business with, it was important to them they use sustainable practices. Taking the results of our recent Visual GPS research, which looks at the key forces driving consumer decision making and how that impacts their visual preferences, we delved deeper into the similarities and differences across generations in Europe to understand what sustainability means to them and they type of visual content they will engage most effectively with.

Baby Boomers

Our research found Baby Boomers respond most to visuals of environmental impact and individual action. They tend to favour imagery showing the direct impact of environmental issues on people, animals, and nature. Overall, they have more faith in individual actions, such as recycling and eliminating single‑use plastics, and in non‑profits and community groups.

Top tip: In your visual communications, it’s especially important to show seniors directly involved in personal environmental projects, such as recycling, volunteering, or using reusable products.

Gen X

Interestingly, Gen X respond most to visuals of sustainable investment in the present for the future. According to our research, Gen X is the most sceptical of any industry’s ability to do good for the environment but they are also the generation most committed to sustainable investing. This group is currently in a life‑phase in which many people have children or leadership responsibilities at work, so they are in a position to influence the future of sustainability.

Top tip: There is an opportunity to show Gen X in both sustainable lifestyle and business visuals, whether it’s leading a team of renewable energy workers, teaching a child how to garden, or eco‑proofing their own home.


According to our research, Millennials respond most to visuals of sustainable consumption from source to shop. This age group wants to understand the full picture when it comes to what they are purchasing – how the products are manufactured, sourced, packaged and sold. Whilst recycling may inspire older generations, our data shows that sustainable business is more likely to strike a chord with Millennials.

Top tip: Visuals showing Millennials as sustainable small‑business owners and customers will reflect their lifestyle choices and draw them in.

Gen Z

Perhaps not surprisingly, Gen Z respond most to visuals of collective responsibility that bring people together to take action. The younger generation prefer visuals that tell a story associated with the environment, have a global feel, and capture real human emotions. They place more responsibility on the media and believe in technology’s potential to help encourage sustainable practices. They may not have as much spending power as older generations, but they still see themselves as ethical influencers and catalysts for change.

Top tip: To capture this growing demographic, visually show the emotional gratification this age group derives from coming together to care for the environment.

As our research shows, sustainability has become a firm cultural value which consumers expect businesses of all sizes to embrace. With searches for corporate social responsible up 87% on iStock, and 82% of UK consumers stating in the last year that it’s important to them the businesses they buy from contribute to making the world a better place, selecting visuals which demonstrate the steps you are taking as a business to engage on the subject of sustainability will drive greater engagement with your customers.