Employers Take Note: Millennials and the EnvironmentMay 16, 2012
Lately, I’ve been mulling over the question in my mind whether there’s a generational difference (opportunity!) with regard to sustainable initiatives in the office. I’ve thought about the general topic of generations at work for some years now, beginning in 1998 when I researched succession planning and the anticipated retirement of the baby boomer generation. Who would replace this behemoth of a generation and given the lower numbers of GenXers behind them, who were the NKOTB (new kids on the block) who would replace the GenXers? What could we expect from them, how were we positioned to attract and retain this raw talent, and what were their work expectations? And what is their attachment to employers’ efforts to adopt sustainable business practices? We’re finding out.
In an article in the Washington Post, published late last year, “Millennials to Business: Social Responsibility Isn’t Optional, “ the writer Michelle Nunn reviewed recent polling studies and business trends and found that “embracing environmental sustainability have become basic requirements to preserve relationships with customers and retain young employees.”
An executive summary of a study recently completed by two students at Cornell, Christopher Lee and Josie Trine, examined the emerging presence in the workplace of Generation “Y”, those born between 1979 and 1999. The writers found that, “Millennials consider environmental sustainability, corporate social responsibility, and ethical financial behavior to be important characteristics of an employer.” And further, that in order to attract and engage this generation, employers should offer benefits that allow employees to volunteer in the community on company time.
And most recently, a blog published on the Natural Resources Defense Council’s “Switchboard”, by Millennial staffer Claire Morgenstern, “What Earth Day Means to Millennials”, reports on the results of a study sponsored by the Earth Day Network of 2000 individuals between 18 and 29 years old. “Seventy-six percent identified America’s dependence on fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas as an issue that is important to shaping this generation and one that they feel has not been adequately addressed — more than inequality in public education, rising costs of healthcare or lack of job and retirement security.”
What can we take from these reports and studies? My sense is that green teams have a friend of the environment in that NKOTB millennial who just moved into the cubicle down the hall. Not only does that twenty-something have a desire to be involved to make a difference, he or she expects to. This is the age group from which you are likely to find a willing volunteer to organize a Bike to Work day this month or an upcoming Coastal Clean-up event. Do not let this opportunity to re-vitalize your green team slip away. This is one form of succession planning that will be a “Triple E” success—for the employer, the employee, and the environment.