Last reviewed 27 November 2020

Younger generations are committed to work that promises environmental sustainability. Intensified by the lessons of the pandemic, younger people continue to push for businesses and governments that don’t shy away from environmental responsibility. As we reach for a “better new normal”, business leaders need to ask how they can take full advantage of these value-driven commitments. Jack Barwise explores.

In a recent “pulse” survey designed to gauge the perspectives of Millennials and Gen Z situated in a global crisis, Deloitte found their participants positively engaged by the opportunities for effective change that a new normal represents. Inspired by the outcomes of the survey, Michele Parmelee, Deloitte’s Global Chief Purpose and People Officer, stated:

“As we move toward another new normal, we all have the opportunity to reset and reimagine a better normal, a brighter future reshaped with these values in mind.”

The results clearly indicate that, as certain polluting practices have decelerated, those brief glimpses of cleaner air and clearer waters worldwide have stoked the resolution of younger recruits, interns, and entrepreneurs, catalysing greener ambitions for a sustainable future.

While 46% of the survey’s respondents still believe that it is too late to reverse the damage caused by global warming, this figure has actually plummeted by 6–8% since 2019. This means that Millennials and Gen Z are, on the whole, more optimistic about tackling the challenges of climate change than they were last year.

The global pandemic has been psychologically and financially devastating to individuals in every demographic, but it has also hardened the resolve of people embarking on their careers to work for businesses that push an environmental agenda. Health care and disease prevention were, not surprisingly, a greater social concern for Deloitte’s respondents in 2020 than in 2019, but protecting the environment still dominated as the top issue for younger people.

So, what does this mean for employers?

The future is carbon neutral, by 2050 to be exact. The government’s unprecedented commitment to Net Zero carbon emissions last year has been paralleled by nearly half of the FTSE 100. This year’s EcoAct report also reveals that as many as 30% of FTSE listed companies have committed to ditching non-renewables entirely, while the number of companies disclosing climate-related risks and opportunities has risen significantly to 50% despite much tighter criteria. The trend among major businesses is moving increasingly toward achieving environmental sustainability as well as transparency.

Stuart Lemmon, EcoAct’s CEO for Northern Europe, announced the report earlier this year, putting the environment and the economy in conversation:

“We have evidenced in our reports during this time a significant increase in the quality and quantity of climate actions and sustainability disclosures, as more companies start to see climate change as a material issue.”

Employees are green with ambition

Sustainability has become an employee need; the new touchstone for social responsibility alongside other essential criteria, such as reskilling and diversity in the workplace. As employers begin to address that need in earnest, this year has seen an appreciable rise in job loyalty among younger people for the first time since 2016.

The trend is most pronounced in Millennials and Gen Z, but prioritising sustainability is not just a concern among younger generations. While the majority of Millennials report that they would turn down a job offer from a company that wasn’t socially responsible, nearly half of British workers, on the whole, prioritise working for a company that has a positive impact on the planet. In order to attract fresh talent and retain valuable investments in skilled workers, businesses in every sector need to be comfortable with advertising their environmental credentials.

This amounts to companies, such as Unilever, who in 2020 held on to the top spot for sustainability among FTSE companies, committing to producing detailed climate scenario analyses, setting ambitious and achievable targets, and tackling climate risks and opportunities across their whole value chain. What this also means, however, is promoting sustainability at the recruitment stage.

Applications can hinge on environmental impact

According to recruitment website Totaljobs, more than a quarter of UK employees would consider taking a substantial pay cut to work at a more environmentally responsible organisation. For Millennials alone, this figure leaps up to 50%. More than 7 out of every 10 applicants in the Millennial age bracket investigate their potential employer’s environmental impact, Totaljobs reports, as a routine part of the application process. Retaining staff and bringing new talent on board is increasingly entangled in the successful messaging of sustainable business practices. Lyn Cahillane, Head of Marketing at Totaljobs, warns:

“The findings tell us that people are prepared to leave their job for a greener role, so businesses that can’t communicate their environmental record could potentially suffer.”

With this unique challenge also comes a unique opportunity for employers to get ahead of the curve, incorporating sustainability both into business practices and company branding in order to attract and retain a passionate, loyal, and highly competent personnel. Agility and environmental fluency are key markers for success as business only gets greener.

Skills investment drives recovery

A vital component of this process is upskilling the workforce to meet those needs. Looking towards the UK’s post-pandemic future, the Climate Change Committee’s first recommendation for a resilient recovery is to use climate change investments to support economic recovery and jobs. In response, the Government has allocated funds for a “green industrial revolution” which promises £12 billion in investment to create and retain 250,000 green jobs across the UK. This goes some way in addressing the green skills deficit.

The Environmental Audit Committee, the legislative body which examines the effect of government policy on both the environment and sustainable development, has launched a new inquiry looking at green jobs.

Following the government’s announcement supporting the creation of 2 million green jobs in both the public and private sectors, the EAC will examine the associated risks and help to determine what skills and training will be needed as businesses and other organisations move toward a sustainable future. These decisive moves seem to indicate that the Government is serious about backing businesses with green ambitions, skilling up workers to support a greener economy.

This month, Alok Sharma, Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, delivered a speech on the upcoming Mock COP in preparation for next year’s COP26. The 26th UN Climate Change Conference will be held here in the UK, in Glasgow, and presents a unique opportunity for the Government to showcase its commitment to lead the world in the race to net zero carbon emissions.

In his speech, Mr Sharma put young activists in the spotlight, promoting the vitality that youth leaders and student entrepreneurs have to offer businesses and governments tackling climate change. Speaking to a bigger picture, Mr Sharma made a point to emphasise the fact that, “Young people are on the frontline of global climate action.”

With a great deal at stake in the 30-year leadup to the government’s 2050 commitment to net zero, it’s no surprise that younger generations are overwhelmingly committed to working for businesses that put sustainability first.