By Alexa Paladino, Intern, Thomson Reuters Corporate Responsibility & Inclusion | 8 August 2017
All generations are subject to generalizations – some of which poke fun more than others – and the millennial age group is no exception, such as when an Australian millionaire suggested that if we stopped spending so much money on avocado toast, we’d be able to afford homes. While millennials undoubtedly cycle through culinary trends and social media fads, we also apply boundless energy and enthusiasm to engendering positive social change. This desire for environmental and social progress, especially in the realm of corporate social responsibility, is driving businesses forward and helping efforts to accelerate a global shift towards sustainable workplaces.
Research from UC Berkeley has shown that more than nine in ten millennials would switch brands to a brand associated with a cause. The Nielson Global Corporate Sustainability Report found that 73% of millennials – compared to 66% of the general population – would pay more for brands that have a clear and public emphasis on corporate social responsibility. Millennials want companies to be invested in societal progress and betterment, to make an impact, and to be transparent about where they are now from a sustainability standpoint and where they are going. Why do millennials seem to care so much about social issues in general, and why corporate responsibility? Many have grown up in a world more globalized than ever before, in which the experiences of peoples and cultures around the world are at their fingertips. The triumphs and struggles of communities near and far are more visible than they used to be, and this information sharing has opened their eyes to the urgency and prevalence of global issues. Advancements in technology and data make it abundantly more clear how the companies we buy from and work for operate around the world, and whether they do that sustainably or not. For example, millennials are attuned to not only the health and environmental benefits of eating organic foods, but also the global social benefits of fair trade grocers – hence the impressive rise of more sustainable chains such as Whole Foods in recent years.
Further, as an American teenager, I cannot help but personally attribute some of my enthusiasm for positive social change to powerful campaigns that energized the nation when many of my peers and I were growing up, like Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can.” Optimistic rhetoric and passion for environmental/social issues shows young people that enacting progressive reform is never easy, or without compromise, but always worth fighting for and more important now than ever. This change can be enacted in many places beyond the political realm – in our day to day life, in what we buy, and in where we choose to work.
As millennials enter the workforce in droves and exercise their control of $2.45 trillion in spending power, their opinions matter to businesses. Since 2015, millennials have been the largest generation in the workforce, and as the aforementioned statistics show, a company’s social responsibility track record is important to them. Workplaces want to attract this massive pool of potential consumers and employees, and the branding on corporate responsibility has increased in recent years. One example is North, an independent advertising agency that has recently partnered with popular brands such as Columbia Sportswear and Clif Bar to produce campaigns centered around social responsibility, aimed at millennials. In an interview with AdWeek, North’s managing director Rebecca Armstrong remarked, “We were tentative about putting [CSR] out there as our key differentiator, but now it has become a viable business opportunity for us. There is enough to serve a business, and that happened in large part from the advent of millennials and the evolution of social media.” Campaigns like these, heavily driven by millennial demand, are bringing corporate social responsibility into the spotlight and popularizing it. This creates a situation in which everyone wins: the company, consumers, prospective employees, and the world itself.
However, branding alone is not enough. Millennials want to see that companies are genuinely following through with their advertised goals and strategies, and not “greenwashing” – disseminating disinformation so as to project an environmentally responsible public image. Climate impact measurement data has become increasingly available and transparent in recent years, and this is one major way to verify that companies are really taking action. One leader in this field is the Carbon Disclosure Project, which has many reports and dashboards tracking companies’ carbon emissions and sustainability initiatives. Recently, in partnership with Thomson Reuters, the CDP released the Global 100 Greenhouse Gas report, which measures the latest greenhouse gas emissions data from the world’s 100 largest publicly traded emitters (the Global 100) as well as the the pathways these companies have for emissions reduction and earnings growth. Reports like these provide needed accountability so that millennial demand translates not only into surface-level advertising, but also into lasting internal reform.
Of course, the increasing prevalence of corporate social responsibility cannot be simply attributed to millennial mindsets; rather, there are many drivers, and all give reason to have hope for the future. Gains in corporate social responsibility are also the results of tireless efforts from those who have been fighting for more funding, visibility, and development in corporate responsibility sectors for years. They are a result of the growing realization that more sustainable businesses are better businesses on every front – research done by the CDP shows S&P 500 companies that thoroughly incorporate sustainability strategy perform better than companies that do not exhibit leadership in corporate responsibility. Specifically, companies that actively manage and plan for climate change attain, on average, an 18% higher return on investment than companies that do not, and 67% higher than companies who refuse to disclose their carbon emissions.
Between studies like the one above that show the financial benefits of business responsibility and global pledges like the Sustainable Development Goals that emphasize the vital social importance, the incentives to increase branding and actively expand the sector are more powerful than ever before. Millennials are just one demographic of the global coalition to make our businesses and our world more sustainable. Ultimately, if young people employing their collective influence in where they choose to work for and buy from has encouraged even one company to expand its CSR impact, or pay more attention to environmental, social, and governance issues, then that’s a big step in the right direction.
Author: Alexa Paladino is an intern in Corporate Responsibility & Inclusion at Thomson Reuters and a rising sophomore at Dartmouth College, pursuing a major in government with minors in international studies and environmental studies.