Millennials and Sustainability

One of the interesting issues facing executives in a wide range of businesses is how to understand the purchasing behavior of Millennials, or people born in the late 1970s, and 1980s.

In the program we run for media executives, for example, we spend lots of time on the topic and bring in outside experts to help our participants get their heads around the way these people seem to enjoy media content, their reluctance to pay for, or even watch, traditional media.

The car companies are also watching this segment carefully as it seems they are not, as a group, as interested in owning a car and seem happy to use car and even ride sharing services as well as public transportation much more than their parents.

imagesPerhaps it is because of my own life experience but my guess is that people who are currently in the mid to late 20’s will adopt different, and perhaps more conventional behavior as they get older, have children and begin to value different things in life. Imagine sharing a baby seat?

Views on Sustainability

One of the assignments I give second year MBA students in my class on the link between business strategy and environmental sustainability is to record a 2-3 minute video blog talking about their views on the environment and watching the tapes over the last weekend has been a real privilege. The following are the key points they have raised:

  • Only 1 of the 50 some odd students expressed real skepticism about the future. He said that after my class he felt a “crushing sense of impotence” as he was able to see how the issue of environmental sustainability affected so many aspects of our modern society and how the tragedy of the commons made it difficult to see a way forward.
  • Many other students also spoke about the tragedy of the commons but saw it more as a call to action than a reason for despair. What they took away form the course was the need to get many different stakeholders involved in a specific issue in order to make progress.
  • Related to this idea of stakeholders were opinions about the relative role of business, government, and civil society in bringing about a more sustainable future. Especially after the last election in the U.S. it seems to many students that business will have to lead the way although others are still hoping for government to step in.
  • images-1Probably the idea that came up most frequently was how the course had helped the students see the incredible complexity of sustainability issues and how it was necessary to go beyond the hype and really dig deeply into specific issues to see what was really true.
  • The final and most common thread in the video blogs was the desire to make a difference. This came up again and again and is also, I am told, one of the key drivers of this generation. Maybe the do not want cars and other trappings of consumer society but they do want to feel that they have purpose and meaning in what they do.

Whichever companies can manage to give students like these that sense of purpose and harness their passion and optimism will be lucky indeed.




2 thoughts on “Millennials and Sustainability

  1. Hi Mike,
    I suppose the challenge is to enable our students so that they can “make a difference”. Making a difference is a cliche that students should avoid in any interview until they’ve worked out how they’re going to make a difference. Otherwise they simply sound like contestants in the Miss World Contest.

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