Companies are urged to engage with Gen Z on Green Policies

Business leaders should listen to young people to ensure their ESG policies are fit for the future, according to a new report.

The report by international law firm Gowling WLG argues that Gen Z – those born between 1997 and 2012 – have a key role to play in shaping corporate environmental and social policies.

He argues that they are more aware and influential than many in business realize, and are also more likely to take action on ESG issues than any other generation.

Ben Stansfield, partner at Gowling WLG, said it’s important to engage with Gen Z because they will be future colleagues, customers and employees and “you’re ignoring this demographic at risk”.

But he said some business leaders may be averse to engaging with that age range because it’s a demographic that doesn’t really show up in many boardrooms today.

“It can be scary, because Gen Z is pretty passionate,” he told Forbes. “They communicate quickly. They wear their hearts on their sleeves and are very vocal. This is not something business leaders are used to.”

Stansfield argued that by engaging with Gen Z, business leaders will also get a “peek around the corner” when it comes to future trends.

“There’s always the debate about the optimism of youth versus the cynicism of middle age and whether Gen Z’s views will eventually mature and grow, but I don’t think they’ll change that much.

“By engaging with this generation, you get a picture of what the next five to 10 years have in store.”

Three-quarters (73%) of young people surveyed for the report felt that businesses are listening to what they have to say, while four in five (81%) said Gen Z workers should be involved in important decisions about how which an organization runs.

Three in five (57%) revealed that they have taken action at least once against organizations that are not doing enough on ESG.

This includes two in five (40%) who take to social media to ‘call’ businesses, over half (56%) who stop to buy products or services and almost a quarter (23%) who have exited avenues to publicly protest.

Regarding environmental violations by companies, more than a quarter (28%) said offenders should face fines of 11% to 20% of their turnover and 20% said this should rise to 30% .

But Stansfield added that Gen Z is an “amazing sounding board” and “if your message is received well by them, you’re in the right place.”

He said they are also very knowledgeable about environmental issues and the nuances of environmental issues.

For example, when asked about the controversial topic of carbon offsetting, three in five (57%) Gen Zs believe there is a role to play in addressing a business’s environmental impact, but reducing that impact should be the priority.

For those organizations that continue to offset their carbon emissions, Gen Z’s view is that offsetting should be done in a deliberate and considered manner.

“Businesses need to play the long game and focus on consistent, honest and consistent messaging across all aspects of ESG,” he said.

“There is a real risk that individual initiatives will do more harm than good. They are likely to get lost in the noise or could lead to reputational damage through accusations of jumping on a trend for the wrong reasons or even greenwashing. Gen Z rightly demands transparency and accountability and will quickly disengage if they suspect they are being held accountable.”

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