Quarterly YouTube Trends Snapshot: Sustainability Culture

April 22, 2019

YouTube is a reflection of our culture, and emerging sentiments in our society are often reflected in the creative output of our vast creator ecosystem. Each quarter we'll zoom out to look at broader cultural trends we see emerging in video. This quarter, we look at sustainability culture on YouTube.

Earth Day focuses the world’s attention on our planet and environment for one day a year, but people championing protection of the environment through living a more sustainable lifestyle is something we see every day on YouTube. Whether it’s the popularity of Lil Dicky's recent top trending video Earth, the spread of Greta Thunberg’s message about environmental responsibility that spurred a global student walkout protest (there are already more than three times as many views of videos with “Greta Thunberg” in the title this year than last year) or the creation of content related to Sustainable Fashion, Clean Beauty, Zero Waste and other sustainable trends, sustainability appears to be gaining traction as a topic of interest on YouTube.

Sustainable Fashion

Many people are beginning to take a closer look at what they're wearing these days - not just to make sure their look is on trend but to examine its potential impact on the environment. Sustainable fashion haul videos, videos where creators showcase clothes they've bought that are either ethically produced or procured, are an outgrowth of that. While hauls have been a part of the fashion community on YouTube for years, many creators began uploading sustainable hauls in response to criticism from their viewers urging them to be more environmentally responsible. In fact, we saw a year over year 190% increase in uploads of videos related to “hauls” with “sustainable” in the title (“sustainable hauls”) and a 13x increase in views of those videos in 2018. The most-viewed "sustainable haul" video was uploaded by the channel, Bestdressed.

Bestdressed is a channel started by Ashley, a UCLA film student, who describes herself as someone who loves thrifting and who has a website through which she resells clothes on the side. Thrifting is one approach to sustainable fashion, and Ashley has uploaded several thrifting hauls to her channel, which boasts over a million subscribers.

Justine Leconte is a French fashion designer living in Germany whose emphasis is on sustainable fashion, the idea that one can create clothes in a way that is minimally taxing to the environment and society. She began her channel with the intention of pulling back the curtain to show what the design process is like, and along the way, she managed to become one of the leading voices around sustainable fashion on YouTube, providing tips on what to look for in sustainable clothing.

Clean Beauty

Making one’s look sustainable doesn’t stop at clothes. A similar trend that has emerged recently is clean beauty. Clean beauty is the idea that people should use makeup comprised of non-toxic, ethically sourced materials. With the EU banning 1,328 chemicals from cosmetics (11 are banned in the U.S.), it’s no wonder many are beginning to wonder how to find cosmetics that are conscientiously produced. Big proponents of this trend include some major brands, so it’s not surprising, then, that many of the most-viewed videos that have "clean beauty" in the title feature celebrities.

That said, we have also seen this concept catch on with creators. Last October we saw a 7X increase in monthly views of videos with "clean beauty" in the title. Key to this trend are makeup tutorials like Allana Davison’s Full Face Using 100% Clean Beauty. These videos are instructive, directing viewers not just toward products but also instructing viewers in applying the makeup.

Sustainable Living

While those trends highlight the ways creators are showcasing sustainability cosmetically, other creators are creating videos that illustrate ways they believe they can integrate sustainability more deeply into their lifestyles. From minimalists to tiny home/van life proponents, and the zero waste community, these communities offers tips to educate others on living more sustainably.

Views for videos related to sustainable living that provide tips for leading a more eco-friendly lifestyle doubled in 2018 compared to 2017. The most-viewed of these from last year is 20 WAYS TO REDUCE WASTE.

A common kind of tip video is the “zero waste swap” video. These videos instruct viewers in leading a more sustainable life by showing them what products with which they can replace the items they already own to help reduce the amount of waste they produce.

One creator who who specializes in "zero-waste swaps" videos is Shelbizlee, a self-described "eco-realist" from Austin, Texas. She has over 100K subscribers and over 10 million views of her videos which offer practical advice on reducing waste.

While zero-waste tips might help with the things that you have in your home, there are those on YouTube who have revolutionized how we think about homes.

There’s a broad community of #Vanlife channels who rhapsodize the simplicity of life lived in a van. You don't have to live in a van to live simply, though; there are many who live in tiny homes. By sharing their lives in these unorthodox domiciles, these creators are able to evangelize a more sustainable lifestyle while also sharing the tips and tricks that are necessary for them to lead their minimalist lives.

Over 400K subscribers follow the adventures of Jinty Fell as her family travels across Australia in a van. The channel exemplifies the tiny home/van life movement, a movement dedicated to reducing one’s footprint by living economically, by reducing one’s possessions using only the space one needs to live. Videos related to van life experienced more than 4.5x increase in views last year vs. 2017.

Between the new types of channels and video formats related to sustainability culture we're seeing emerge and spread from creators around the globe and the growth in views for this content, it appears that sustainable culture is taking root on YouTube.

-- Earnest Pettie