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Gen Zs and millennials need businesses to fight climate change

Gen Z

Both Gen Z and millennial generations put climate change just behind the cost of living as their top societal concern. Image via Shutterstock/J.ennifer

Despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, geopolitical conflicts and high inflation, protecting the environment remains a top priority for Gen Zs and millennials. According to Deloitte’s 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey, both generations put climate change just behind the cost of living as their top societal concern.

About three-quarters of Gen Zs and millennials believe the world is at a tipping point when it comes to responding to climate change, and 90 percent of both groups are taking steps to reduce their environmental impact. Their deep concern about climate change influences their decision-making about everything from the food they eat to the companies they work for.

Near term, Gen Zs and millennials are focused on everyday actions such as using secondhand and recyclable items, and sourcing local and organic food. And despite their financial concerns, many say they are willing to spend more to make sustainable choices. While they may currently find it challenging to invest in more expensive items such as solar panels and electric vehicles, half of those surveyed say they plan to make these purchases in the future.

They also want to work for organizations that reflect their values, have a positive impact on the environment and make them feel like they as individuals can make a difference. In fact, nearly two in five of those surveyed say that they have rejected a job or assignment because it did not align with their values.

Gen Zs and millennials want their employers to share their sense of urgency about climate change.

Pushing employers to do more

According to Deloitte’s recent 2022 CxO Sustainability Report, 79 percent of executives agree that the world is at a tipping point in responding to climate change. However, only 15 percent of Gen Zs and 14 percent of millennials believe businesses are strongly committed to taking climate action. Nearly half of Gen Zs and more than four in 10 millennials say they are pushing their employers to do more.

Gen Zs and millennials want employers to prioritize visible, everyday environmental actions, such as banning single-use plastics and providing training to help people make better choices in their everyday lives. They also want more opportunities to take part in their organizations’ climate efforts.

Their deep concern about climate change influences their decision-making about everything from the food they eat to the companies they work for.

Lower priority for Gen Zs and millennials are some broader, deeper climate initiatives that businesses can take to drive change outside of their own organizations, such as increasing public policy engagement and implementing strategies to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. This is likely due, at least in part, to the fact that such efforts can be less visible and less easy for employees to get involved in directly.

A two-pronged approach

The separate survey findings suggest that employers have a valuable opportunity to help differentiate themselves by taking a two-pronged approach.

One element is to prioritize the everyday climate actions that are highly visible. As the survey findings underscore, Gen Zs and millennials are evaluating both current and prospective employers on the basis of these climate actions. That has implications for companies’ ability to recruit and hold on to members of these highly mobile generations.

As a second element, companies should engage people across the organization — especially Gen Zs and millennials — to help them understand longer-term objectives and the relative impact of these objectives when it comes to driving global progress.

A critical part of this effort is to inspire employees to take part in these initiatives and become agents of positive change. For example, a longer-term strategy such as committing to achieving net-zero greenhouse emissions requires a wide array of efforts, including educating and empowering people to integrate sustainability factors in their decision-making; reducing carbon emissions; greening office locations, fleets and supply chains; and offering sustainable products and services.

Look for opportunities where these efforts could draw in enthusiastic participants, and further deepen training for those involved in the roles most relevant to the effort’s success.

Organizations that take visible, meaningful action — and give their people the chance to get involved — can gain a significant advantage when it comes to recruiting and retaining Gen Zs and millennials. At the same time, by empowering employees to help fight climate change, businesses will be better positioned to drive change at scale and make a truly meaningful impact.

By answering this call to climate action, companies can create a unique "win-win-win" situation — for employers, for Gen Zs and millennials, and most critically for the environment.

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