Gen Y Wants its Employers to Go Green, Mostly

The young are often perceived as crusaders for a better, cleaner, fairer way of doing business, and there is some evidence that this folk wisdom on youthful idealism is correct. A recent analysis by Pew found that the younger the person, the more likely they are to support clean energy and environmental protections.

Meanwhile, across the pond, Sky’s new survey of graduate trainees, current and recently graduated MBA students, and middle managers earmarked for leadership positions found that Britain’s future business leaders also view sustainability as central to their careers, with 34 percent of respondents telling pollsters they see creating social and environmental value as an overall career goal. Seventy-nine percent said the vision and values of a company are an important factor when looking at potential employers.

Scratching the Green Surface

All of this suggests that companies need to pay attention to how potential candidates view the organization’s green credentials. However The Guardian’s Sustainable Business Blog isn’t so sure.

“While the report trumpets the creation of the first ‘sustainable generation,’ there are some worrying trends that suggest that the younger generation, who themselves grew up in the chimera of plenty, are not so very different after all,” says the blog, citing several statistics from the study:

“More significant than both values and sustainability were promotion prospects and the financial package — not so very different from the older generation after all.

“This is shown even more strongly when discussing overall career goals. Creating social and environmental value (34 percent) is lifted off the bottom ranking only by the chance to work internationally (30 percent), and far behind job satisfaction (84 percent) and work life balance (78 percent).”

The blog also points out “the gap between the resonance of the word values compared to sustainability, even though in reality they are interwoven.” Seventy-nine percent said values were important, while only 41 percent said the same of sustainability. “There definitely is more awareness, knowledge and understanding of sustainability issues amongst the next generation of potential business leaders, but the results also suggest they are as much locked into the current economic paradigm as the rest of us,” concludes the post.

Survey Says….

So which is it? Is Gen Y an environmentally minded bunch who demand green cred from potential employers, or just another cohort that thinks environmental commitment is nice but less important than a whole list of other priorities? There’s plenty of evidence for the latter. For example, earlier this year, Australian researchers examined the preferences of MBA students when it comes to potential employers, and found “high ethical standards” was a factor in choosing where to work less than 10 percent of the time.

And Gen Y isn’t practicing what they preach outside of the office either, according to GreenBiz’s reporting on another British study:

“The study, commissioned by IBM, found that young adults in Generation Y — the folks currently aged 18-24 — had both the highest levels of awareness of environmental issues, and were the biggest wasters of energy and water in the country.

“The good news is that Generation Y is showing clear concern for environmental issues,” said Jon Z Bentley, a partner in energy and environment at IBM Global Business Services. “The not-so-good news is that far too few are taking even simple, small steps to control their own wasteful use of resources.”

The takeaway here for businesses is clear (if disappointing for the environmentally conscious). While green credentials do matter to the extent that flagrant flouting of basic environmental decency is likely to turn off some potential hires, most young folks — like most older folks — demand only the thinnest green commitment from their employer. Wheel out those recycling bins and slap a think before you print message on the end of e-mails and you would seem to be OK.

Do you agree that a company’s green credentials are pretty far down the list of considerations for most Gen Y job hunters?

Image used under Creative Commons by Flickr user jdog90.

London-based Jessica Stillman blogs about generational issues and trends in the workforce for Inc.com, GigaOM and Brazen Careerist.