Do You Represent a Sustainable Generation?


These days everyone is talking about sustainability: politicians, researchers, activists, business leaders, and journalists. More and more companies recognize that sustainability offers the potential to make their operations more robust and efficient.

But while CEOs widely acknowledge the importance of sustainability, does the next generation of business leaders consider it as vital for future success? A study conducted by British Sky Broadcasting Group among 751 graduate trainees, MBA students and high potential middle managers revealed that tomorrow’s business leaders identify themselves as “the first sustainable generation”. Quite a statement – what does it mean, and do you think it’s true?

Having grown up with issues like environmental protection and social responsibility, young professionals feel knowledgeable about, and comfortable with, sustainability. Although a whopping 96% of respondents plan on being involved with sustainability in their careers, they take a more pragmatic approach when considering attractiveness of potential employers.

Job satisfaction (95%), financial package (88%), and promotion prospects (87%) are considered more important factors than company’s vision/values (79%) and sustainability record (41%). Also, when asked about important career goals, sustainable generation ranks personal achievements, such as high level of job satisfaction (84%), good work-life balance (78%), and career progress (39%), higher than an opportunity to create social and environmental value through business (34%).

Sustainability and business agenda

Business Agenda
Business Agenda

Future leaders believe that sustainability will strongly impact business, for example, 70% agree that pressure to act sustainably will uncover new opportunities for companies. Companies are likely to uncover new ways to save costs and increase efficiency if they address environmental concerns.

Interestingly, 78% of respondents agreed that currently business community is making a genuine effort to integrate sustainability, but only 3% of future leaders believe that companies devote enough attention to sustainability issues.

Many of participants cite several barriers that prevent businesses from fully integrating sustainable agenda: among others, an unwillingness or inability of consumers to pay for sustainable products and services (62%), companies seeing other business priorities as more important (62%), insufficient training/knowledge (23%), and lack of employee engagement (19%).

Future leaders believe that companies will be able to overcome these challenges and fully integrate sustainability only if it will becomes a part of corporate values. Participants were skeptical about the motives that drive businesses to claim having social purpose. The overwhelming majority (86%) cite improving reputation as guiding motive, 76% consider it an attempt to win customers, and only 27% believe that companies do it because they genuinely believe it to be true. Respondents also believe that in the future external parties like government (66%), customers (56%), competitors (44%), and media (37%) will pressure businesses to be more sustainable.

Ready to champion sustainability

An apparent contradiction surfaces, when one takes a closer look at the results of the survey. Participants report awareness of the many challenges businesses currently face in integrating sustainability issues and are confident about their own ability to drive green movement. However, the source of their awareness is somewhat vague, since only 35% believe that their employers and/or business schools are providing adequate training/education on sustainability.

At the same time, while majority believe in the importance of sustainability in their personal and work life, only very few express a goal of creating social and environmental value. This produces a confusion about the true motives of the sustainable generation: are they more concerned about reputation? Or do they already embody the true behaviors of sustainability champions? What do you think?