Businesses urged to ‘make friends with disruption’ and embrace the millennial movement

EXCLUSIVE: Businesses should do more to drive the sustainability agenda by embracing the willingness of the first "digital natives and a globally empathetic generation" in order to ignite behaviour change within consumers, the chief executive of collaborative organisation Collectively has said.

Speaking to delegates at edie’s Sustainable Communications Conference in London on Wednesday (25 May), Collectively’s chief executive Will Gardner claimed that a growing number of millennials want businesses to become “agents for positive change” in promoting sustainability.

With Collectively already working with 28 corporate partners – with a collective annual turnover of $610bn – including Unilever, Google, Coca-Cola and M&S, Gardner warned that growing concerns on climate change had placed the “patient on the operating table” and without the aid of millennials sustainability “won’t catch on very fast”.

“From a corporate perspective, in a broken world we will only have broken market places. While we all look to risk mitigation and CSR there is the option for companies to be agents of positive change,” Gardner said. “This generation will occupy 75% of the world’s workforce in 10 years’ time, they will be leading the consumption patterns of the world. It’s important to acknowledge and engage with them.”

Gardner – a self-proclaimed “honorary millennial” – urged businesses to motivate the 1.8bn millennials on the planet by using “passion points” such as fashion and music – an avenue already being explored in CSR reporting through rap battles.

Using findings from the World Economic Forum’s (WEC) research team, Gardner told delegates that millennials often reject labels and jargon associated with sustainability and are growing cynical of of self-promoted sustainability within companies that don’t reveal the whole picture.

With research also revealing that 84% of millennials believe it is their responsibility to change the world, Gardner called on companies to start collaborating with the generation in order to “take away the barriers and allow change to happen”.

“We want to make a world where sustainable ways of living are the new norm,” Gardner said. “We want to achieve this with our collaborative partners and we decided to make it by millennials for millennials. But this generation doesn’t want a job that just pays the bills, but rather one that matches their virtues and passions.

“This adds up to an intersection between what the world needs and what this generation wants; we have a duty to explore this. If we are trying to hoister onto the world a type of sustainability that this generation doesn’t want to live in, then it won’t catch on very fast. They want a role to shape the world.”

Collectively, which has seen the 28 corporate partners it works with employ more than one million millennials, is using new collaboration labs in an attempt to get companies to sit down and talk to generations about what change can be introduced.

With new lab sessions scheduled for London this year, more than 45 organisations have already discussed ways for students to “bridge the gap” between the final year in university and a job role that offers more than just a wage – something that those in Generation S are actively seeking.

But with a growing number of organisations realising that individuals aren’t motivated by “climate change and polar bears”, Gardner called on businesses to align to a Sustainable Development Goal in order to promote megatrends in a way that speaks to millennials.

“We can take all our corporate partners and map them against the Global Goals and ask them where they want to play,” Gardner added. “But young people are savvy and can smell marketing BS from a mile off.

“They want real change and want to be involved in this change. As customers they want businesses to share challenges with them to seek solutions and as employees they want to roll their sleeves up and tackle these issues.”

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Matt Mace

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