Just mention climate change, and I think of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who, last year, spurred millions of children across 150 countries to conduct the most massive climate strike in history. In 2016, eight year old Mari Copeny became famous as “Little Miss Flint” after she wrote to the then-President Barack Obama and brought national attention to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Malala Yousafzai was only 17 when she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.
Yes, the face of today’s environmental and social causes is decidedly wrinkle-free. Because young people have the most significant stake in a sustainable future, I’m not surprised they are leading the charge and driving sustainability on global and corporate agendas, as well as in their daily lives.
Increasingly dubbed “Generation Green,” millennials and Gen Z demonstrate environmentally and socially-conscious consumer behavior. With rising spending power and digitally-enhanced information access, they are translating awareness into conscientious, organic, and environment-friendly product choices. In fact, industry watchers believe that association with ethical and eco-friendly choices is becoming the new status symbol for young consumers and an expression of their identity. Smart retailers will realize the tangible impact of this trend on shoppers – 53% of millennials say they would buy environmentally friendly products instead of a brand (as compared with 34% of baby boomers).
Millennials are keen to further the sustainability agenda through investment power. Capgemini’s World Wealth Report 2020 revealed that 41% of high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) younger than 40 are interested in sustainable investing as compared with 27% of HNWI respondents overall. Youthful HNWIs also told us they were willing to commit a more significant portion of their assets (53%) to sustainable investing by 2021, compared with HNWIs overall (46%).
Among the high-net-worth individuals we interviewed, environmental risks and climate change emerged as leading sustainability focus areas. HNWIs under 40, however, rated effective and ethical corporate governance systems as a priority, followed by environmental risks. Wealth management firms will be wise to keep the unique needs and preferences of millennial investors in mind when designing sustainable investment offerings.
More and more, I hear from millennials who expect their employers to take an active role in driving sustainability. With millennials slated to make up the majority of the workforce in the coming years, a commitment to sustainability is critical to employee engagement, talent recruitment, and retention. Nearly 40% of millennials say they chose a job because the employer performed better on sustainability than other firms, according to a 2019 survey. Less than a quarter of Gen X and 17% of baby boomers said the same.
What does it mean for business?
As the proportion of millennials and Gen Z grows within consumer and employee bases, their sustainability demands will be both impractical and impossible to ignore. At the same time, let’s not consider sustainability as just another tool to capture brand value or market share. To generate positive societal, environmental, or organizational impact, it must be an action-based companywide commitment.
Thinking about developing a sustainability strategy? Keep these thoughts in mind:
- Fold sustainability into your organization’s DNA. Sure, this may not happen overnight, but commit to a strategy that goes beyond piecemeal initiatives to engrain sustainability principles in everything from your products and business operations to your organizational infrastructure, policies, and culture. At Capgemini, we have made a strong commitment to become a net-zero business by 2030, which we aim to achieve by embracing new ways of doing business and working with our entire value chain.
- Recognize that sustainability expands beyond the environment or climate. While environmental priorities are critical, the social and governance aspects of sustainability are also quickly gaining ground. Social sustainability involves identifying and managing the positive and negative impact of business on people, and it includes priorities such as health, education, alleviating poverty, gender equality, diversity, inclusion, and more.
- Support sustainability outside your organization: It heartens me to see more firms stepping up to contribute to society. For instance, I am proud of a recent Capgemini effort in which we sought ideas internally to address COVID-19 challenges and then set up a dedicated Social Response Unit to fast track implementation of the ideas.
- Provide Generation Green with ways to give back: Youthful employees are keen to contribute, and empowering them with the right tools and avenues can enhance customer and employee engagement while also delivering impact on a grander scale. In fact, let’s offer avenues for everyone to contribute!
Would you like to know more about corporate sustainability efforts? I encourage you to get in touch via social media.