What sustainability looks like and means to me as a millennial, by Iona Neilson, Project Analyst Simply Sustainable
As a millennial, I am always interested to read the latest news and reports about the understanding and uptake of sustainability by my generation versus that of my parents and earlier generations. Millennials are often seen by many as driving the conversation and awareness about sustainability, and feel accountable for many issues in both the workplace and the wider world, according to reports like The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2017. According to this report, it is ‘primarily in and via the workplace that they [millennials], feel most able to make an impact. Opportunities to be involved with “good causes” at the local level, many of which are enabled by employers, provide millennials with a greater feeling of influence.’
I couldn’t agree more, but I also think that effects of a business with sustainable purpose also resonate with all employees, irrespective of age.
An article from the Harvard Business Review is a case in point, showing that a company’s engagement in sustainability creates a culture desirable to all employees, regardless of how old they are. Morale and productivity increases amongst employees where they feel a loyalty to their companies as a result of its sustainability initiatives. What’s more, ‘companies who embed sustainability in their core business strategy treat employees as critical stakeholders, just as important as shareholders. Employees are proud to work there and feel part of a broader effort’. For my part, when a company has a purpose, whether that’s environmental or social, it sends a clear message to its staff that their values and passions can be delivered on a business level. Working here, I see first-hand that the company vision and purpose is rooted in sustainability.
I personally want to work with purpose, and I want my work place to be aligned with my values. However, according to IBM’s February 2015 millennial study, millennial career goals don’t actually differ all that much from older generations. Generation X-ers and millennials all want to make a positive impact on their organisation and so help make a difference on societal and environmental challenges, but is one any more or any less sustainability-minded than their parents or grandparents generations? There is differing research on the matter: one day one study will claim millennials are more likely than older generations to opt for organic food and to consider the environment when buying product, then the next that millennials are less likely to identify themselves as environmentalists compared to other generations. Therefore the claim that millennials are any more or less sustainability focused appears inconclusive – the jury’s still out.
Yet I think that as the sustainability challenges we all face become harder to ignore, I think that it will be the millennials and future generations who will have no choice but to act, regardless of our level of interest level now.
I believe that millennials are more sustainable than older generations because we are simply more exposed to it through the vast array of news and social media outlets with which we’ve grown up. But whilst media outlets do indeed provide a bountiful way to highlight sustainability issues, equally within such a large sea of information it is increasingly challenging to actually raise awareness of specific issues and so drive people to take action which is the ultimate goal that needs to happen.
Sustainability, in my mind, means far more than the definition that I was taught in school: development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Now although this isn’t false, I feel as if this ignores the bigger picture, as it isn’t just about depleting resources. Sustainability, in my mind, is about making wiser choices, creating innovative solutions to challenges and applying a global consciousness to your way of life.
You might ask whether I practise what I believe? Now that I am working in the sustainability sector, I believe that I am more likely to take steps towards sustainability as I have a hands-on awareness of the impact of the steps take. It’s the action of taking those steps that’s key.
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