81% of millennials born between the end of the Eighties and the year 2000 are willing to pay more for sustainable products, 56% exclude companies not operating sustainably and 49% have turned down jobs in contrast with their professional ethics. This is what emerges from two surveys performed in 2016. The first, by Pwc is entitled “Think Sustainability - The Millennials View” and the second by Deloitte “The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey” .
“If on the one hand it’s true that these are blanket statements which can apply to anyone, on the other hand, these statements have been increasing over time, so that they have become a trend,” states Giorgio Fiorentini, professor at the Department of Policy Analysis and Public Management of Bocconi University in Milan.
Awareness Becomes a Choice
Less celebratory are the results of the “CSR and RME in Business Schools and students predisposition” report written by Debbie Haski-Leventhal and Julian Concato, professors at the Australian Macquarie Graduate School of Management. Between October 2015 and November 2016, the study involved 1,699 students from numerous institutes across the world, which signed the UN’s Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) initiative.
More than 82% of millennials aim at a good work-life balance, 84% want their lives and jobs to reflect their values, 69% strive to make the world a better place and 73% would like to be proud of their employer – these are the percentages of those who believe these issues are ‘very important’ or ‘absolutely essential’.
And what about CSR? 92.1% of those surveyed think that working for an environmentally and socially responsible company is important. So important that CSR has become one of the criteria considered when applying for the right job. More than 50% of respondents are willing to give up 20% of their salary to work for a company that makes corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts. 18.7% would sacrifice as much as 40% of their salary.
92.1% of millennials believe working for a responsible company is so important that it has become one of the criteria considered when applying for the right job.
Sustainability is therefore a priority and there is little tolerance for negligence. According to 63.8% of those surveyed, the success of a company is also determined by its level of social and ethic responsibility and, according to 73.6% of the total, companies should do a lot more for society and the environment. Only 15.8% of university students think companies should always aim at profit even at the price of breaking rules. Many more, precisely seven out of ten, say that CSR is compatible with profit and good ethics often goes hand in hand with successful businesses.
“The sustainability issue has definitely come out of the corner – there is no doubt about it. There are so many university courses on corporate social responsibility. The number of thesis students exceeds university capacity,” explained Mario Molteni, Business Administration full professor at Milan’s Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore and founder of Altis.
This is testified by the emergence of groups such as CSRnatives – the first network in Italy connecting online university students who strongly believe in sustainability, functioning as a platform where young people can meet and exchange ideas with responsible companies willing to invest in younger generations and their ability to become social innovators.
Millennials and Companies
Young generations are certainly pushing hard for a wind of change. But what are companies doing? According to the Harvard Business Review, companies that uphold social responsibility have from 25 to 50% lower turnover, and also less difficulty hiring and keeping new employees.
“I began to deal with these issues 20 years ago,” says Davide Dal Maso, partner and consultant of Avanzi, “and the companies willing to listen were an exception in those times. Today, the ratio has reversed and the companies that don’t consider the issue have become the exception. There has been an acceleration process that reached its peak in 2015, leading to what we call a U-turn.”
What triggered change is difficult to say. “It isn’t simple to establish if the awareness of new generations has pushed companies towards sustainability or if, instead, companies have developed a culture from it. It’s a bit like establishing which came first, the egg or the hen? I believe it was a combination of concomitant factors –the demand of products, services and work, the different ways of operating of regulators who introduce increasingly stricter regulations. And even the role played by the financial community, which recognises more and more the essential role of these factors generating value and risk. The result has been a process of awareness that has finally emerged from the scientific world, transforming into a mass movement.”
The Unilever Example
“From our point of view, sustainability is an indispensable piece of the puzzle, which has now become part of a responsible employer profile. Those who consider the needs of people and the environment equally important attract skilled workforce capable of acting and thinking responsibly and willing to stand up for our values,” says Gregor Stücheli, co-owner and managing partner of Inventx, Swiss IT consulting company for the banking sector. “If you live in contact with nature, like us at the company in Coira, you will naturally be very sensitive to issues of environmental sustainability and preservation. Lorenz Isler, Ikea’s Sustainability and Public Affairs Manager, also confirms that things have changed in companies and adds that “more and more companies understand that we can’t circumvent sustainability. Skilled workforce assesses companies on the basis of ethical principles and bestows more and more importance to the employer’s sustainability efforts.”
But perhaps the most significant experience, also in terms of magnitude, is that of world giant Unilever. To understand better, it suffices to say that the word Unilever should be read as Coccolino, Svelto, Mentadent, Dove, Lysoform, Cif, Knorr, Calvé, Fissan, Sunsilk, Badessa. But also as Lipton, Algida, Cornetto and Grom. We are referring to a multinational that has probably been the most present company in Italian homes over the last 50 years. And according to Del Maso, it is “the most impressive case of CSR at the core of company management.”
Companies are discovering that the costs of not doing things are becoming increasingly higher than those of doing them.
“Each of the 5 Italian plants is assessed every three months at a global level to check if they correspond to the benchmarks. There are specific targets to reach, not only in terms of profitability but with social and environmental objectives which should be shared by everyone in the company. It’s a daily challenge, involving all our workers and clerical staff. Pozzilli certainly isn’t Manhattan or Milan, but it works well and our plant is one of Unilever’s best plants in Europe.” Angelo Trocchia, President and Managing Director of Unilever Italy, tells us of how the multinational decided to make of CSR an essential factor of competitiveness. “Companies are discovering that the costs of not doing things are becoming increasingly higher than those of doing them. For this reason, we have invested in energy efficiency, waste reduction, water savings, alongside agricultural producers and raw materials, climate policies and low carbon, product quality checks, research on packaging materials. They are all options dictated by the necessity to increase profitability and guarantee a long-term future. At the same time, they are also choices for sustainability or responsibility, as you may call them.”
“Our sustainability,” says Trocchia, “begins with responsibility towards the company we work for and the territory we occupy. Next is the environment, which may be the simplest area for Italians. Our raw materials come from sustainable sources. Do consumers acknowledge this? They are certainly more careful and conscientious and clearly acknowledge the responsibility we take.”
As with all changes, there are also risks. “It is very important to increase awareness,” says Molteni, “but it is equally important to have graduates in management who are first of all skilful business men and women. Sustainability should be one of the skills, not a specialisation. There is only one right path and responsibility should be one of the training steps. It shouldn’t be a never-ending stream but one of the essential functions of the company that everyone should study and learn during training”. Fiorentini also believes in a more pragmatic approach. “Without the designated company functions, there can be undoubtedly no social innovation. And innovation gives life to internal philanthropy. However, it’s very important to understand that companies are social enterprises. I believe social innovation shines through the entrepreneurial ability of companies. It isn’t something extra. And for-profit businesses should therefore have impact indicators. This is the real challenge: starting to consider all this as part of ordinary business management.”