Similarly a 2017 CNN survey showed that two thirds of 16-19 year-olds said that a career in the oil and gas industry is unappealing, which the same number of respondents believed causes problems rather than solves them.
And even more, 73% of millennials, are willing to pay more for a product or service that is environmentally sustainable according to a 2015 survey by nielsen.
Clearly, an overwhelming majority of young people deeply care about working for a sustainable company, and they are starting to flex their influence by pushing companies to invest in corporate sustainability programs.
In a recent interview with Harvard Business Review, Dominic Barton, the global managing partner of McKinsey&Company, explains how young people are pressuring their company leaders to focus more on sustainability.
For “that younger generation, [sustainability] is really serious for them. So I think the pressure in a sense is coming from the bottom, which I think is great. The people are saying what are we doing, Dom, what is your carbon footprint, because we probably think it’s pretty bad, so what are you doing about it?” “They say we joined the firm because we actually want to do work in this area. We want to work with companies that do this, so that actually gives me the most confidence is the significant pressure, in a good way, from the people coming into the firm and their expectations of where it is.”
The biggest reason young people have taken sustainability so much to heart is because they understand how the effects of climate change are already affecting their family, friends, and communities.
59% of Americans say climate change is currently affecting their local community either a great deal or some, and 31% say the effects of climate change are affecting them personally, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.
They also know the magnitude and frequency of severe weather events, which were named as the top global threat by likelihood in a 2019 survey by the World Economic Forum, will only get worse as they move towards retirement.
Young people not only recognize the inevitability that climate change will affect their lives and the lives of their friends and family, but they understand that what is done today to reduce emissions will substantially mitigate future risk caused by climate change.
Many young people are already committed to sustainability in their own lives and are looking for a company that aligns with their values.
Research by Gallup “shows that, more than any other age group, they value purpose over paycheck. So when companies hire us to, for example, redesign their performance review and development process, we really advise defining your purpose and driving it through culture," and according to Harvard professor James L. Heskett, purpose-driven company culture “can account for 20-30% of the differential in corporate performance when compared with ‘culturally unremarkable’ competitors.”
This is also highlighted by ABB CEO Jean-Christophe Deslarzes, who says that “people truly connect to a company's purpose if it is genuine. And the great thing is that a strong purpose contributes to high performance,”
Deslarzes is another example of a CEO that understands and is influenced by millennial’s strong connection to sustainability: “Roughly 40% of our workforce is 37 and younger. So think about millennials today. If you were to put the annual report and the sustainability report of the company you're working for in the living room, which one do you think a millennial would pick up first? It's often, if not always, the sustainability report.”
However, even as more major companies invest in sustainability, these efforts continue to miss the mark with young people.
According to Deloitte’s 2018 Millennial Survey, “Millennials’ opinions about business’ motivations and ethics, which had trended up the past two years, took a sharp turn downward. There continues to be a stark mismatch between what millennials believe responsible businesses should achieve and what they perceive businesses’ actual priorities to be.”
But although businesses overall are not meeting millennials’ expectations, those expectations are clear: “Young workers are eager for business leaders to be proactive about making a positive impact in society—and to be responsive to employees’ needs.”
Sarah Schwartz is the lead consultant for Office Climate Solutions. She writes about the intersection of sustainability, business, and the workplace.