Products made using green hydrogen are likely to incur a significant premium compared with conventional methods in the near term—raising the question of whether consumers will readily switch to lower-carbon options. The answer to many seems obvious: young people are the face of climate activism, and it stands to reason that the generation that has the most to lose from climate change is a clear customer base for green end-products, even with the premium.
While this is a flattering portrayal of my generation, on closer look, it does not quite hold up as a reasonable expectation of how consumers under 30 will behave.
Young people may be more likely than those in older age groups to report that they consider climate change a serious problem, but this does not necessarily track to individual climate action.
A recent survey by the UK’s Office for National Statistics indicated that 23pc of the 16-24 demographic had reported making no lifestyle changes to tackle climate change, second only to the over-70s, at 26pc. While this could also be interpreted as younger people believing their lifestyles to be greener to begin with—you do not have to give up driving if you already do not own a car—it is not promising data to suggest the generation as a bloc will opt for the greenest options on the market.
While the industry may have a vision of Gen Z as an army of Greta Thunbergs taking personal action to limit their own carbon footprint at whatever cost, this generation and the preceding millennials have also been behind the rise of hugely polluting industries, such as fast fashion, which promise instant gratification at ultra-low prices at the expense of the environment.
The under-30s are also less likely to have the disposable income to purchase more expensive green products. According to data from the EU’s most recent structure of earnings survey, 26.3pc of under-30 employees were ‘low-wage earners’ on two-thirds or less of the national median gross hourly earnings, compared with 12.6pc for the 30-49 demographic and 13.9pc for over-50s.
The industry cannot take for granted that people on starting salaries will sacrifice a higher portion of their income on green options, solely on the basis of stereotypes about eco-friendly youth.
Even environmentally conscious youth may not be willing to pay a premium for products made with ‘clean’ hydrogen. Rhetoric among young activists tends to focus on supply-side and political action, with understandable scepticism around paying more for an option that may have limited or no efficacy in actually reducing emissions.
Hydrogen is already viewed with suspicion by environmentalists as just an excuse for the oil and gas sector to continue extracting fossil fuels, either by delaying electrification or by transitioning to blue hydrogen. The industry could benefit from greater transparency around value-chain emissions for any low-carbon form of hydrogen and its end-products in order to win over this crowd.