How Gen Z and Millennials are putting sustainability on corporate agendas

Companies up their sustainability game amid tussle to retain talent

March 06, 2020

Younger generations in the workforce increasingly are committed to making social and sustainable impacts, pushing companies hunting for talented employees to follow suit.

Nearly half of millennials and Gen Z are more attracted to making a positive impact in society and communities than starting a family and having kids, according to Deloitte’s 2019 Millennials Survey. 

Last year around 70% of millennials said they prefer to work in a company with a strong sustainability agenda, according to a Fast Company survey. And about three-quarters of them are even willing to take a smaller salary to work for an environmentally-responsible firm.

These generations grew up “in a different era, where they have much more exposure to climate change,” says Wu Xuchao, Head of Energy and Sustainability Services, JLL South Asia. “They possess greater awareness of issues critical to the planet and humankind, and are more willing to act on them compared to the past generations.”

Corporate action

As consumers, these groups have caused seismic shifts by opting for sustainable fashion, moving towards plant-based diets and upending traditional notions of travel and hospitality.

Their decisions are also hitting the workplace. Companies trying to hire the best and brightest are looking to sustainable workplaces to boost their sense of purpose, Wu says, noting “companies are becoming increasing aware of these issues and the workplace solutions available for them to become more sustainable.”

This can include retrofitting older offices to meet sustainability goals, or starting from ground up with building methods that incorporate Environmentally Sustainable Design (ESD) elements, like the installation of solar panels for renewable energy or additions of breezeways for natural ventilation and cooling of a building.

Other firms rope in millennials and Gen Z from the start in office design. For financial firm Sun Life’s new office in Gurugram, India, a workshop was held with 25 millennial employees to get feedback on what they wanted in an office and results included touches such as natural lighting and ample use of wood.

Developers, too, are helping firms look into new technologies that deliver better waste management, low-carbon cooling and fully-energy renewable. Others have opted for sustainable construction materials such as timber or bamboo.

Take Auckland’s office B:Hive, which was awarded World’s Best Office at the World Architectural Festival last year. With features such as thermal chimneys to draw air through the atrium to ventilate the interior and a garden for air purification and greenery, the co-working space received top honours for being a shining example of a sustainable and flexible workspace for the millennial work force. It has since attracted over 100 entrepreneurs and start-ups.

And if building a space from ground up is too daunting, companies can incorporate softer but no-less meaningful aspects, such as furniture and furnishings from sustainable sources, or banning single-use products.

Advertising conglomerate WPP announced last summer it will no longer buy or provide single-use plastics such as bottles, straws, cutlery and cups in any of its 3,000 locations worldwide from 2020.

“Risk mitigation, brand enhancement and talent attraction and retention are tangible and positive by-products of corporates doing the right thing by adopting greater sustainability measures,” Wu says.