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Youth Climate Movement to Big Business: Ignore Us and You’ll Get Burned

February 4, 2020

Throughout history, generations of youth have catalyzed change. From the teenagers and young men who joined in the Boston Tea Party to students who led anti-war protests and civil rights marches in the ‘60s, young people have leveraged their values and idealism for good — in hopes of creating a brighter future. The big difference today is that, for my generation, the stakes are higher.

Climate change can’t be reversed, and we’re already seeing its devastating impacts. This has created a stronger sense of urgency for us than for any previous generation. And, as we hope for a lasting future and fear unstoppable damage, we believe that each of us has work to do.

As we have seen from Greta Thunberg, Time’s 2019 Person of the Year, the voice of a single person can trigger a movement. From high school walkouts to Fire Drill Fridays, young climate activists around the world are sending a strong message, asking politicians to influence change. But they aren’t our only target — our attention is shifting, and corporations are the new mark.

In general, we prefer to engage with companies with whom we morally align — a trend expected to increase over the next decade, and not just with my generation. FleishmanHillard’s 2018 Navigating Zero Gravity study found that two-thirds of U.S. consumers say they’ve often or sometimes stopped using certain products or services because the company’s response to an issue doesn’t support their personal views. A majority of millennials, the youngest of the audience polled in this study, thought that companies should speak out on climate change.

And consider that those statistics were published while the Sunrise Movement was still in its infancy and before Greta Thunberg became an international icon. Today, the stakes for businesses are even higher.

With millennials and members of Generation Z currently controlling 37% of the voting population and a majority of spending each year, these figures are beyond important for all to consider.

More and more, my generation will use our values to guide where we spend money — and our time. As mentioned in a recent Forbes article, “If employees are with a company that deviates from their values, they either stand up for what they believe in or vote with their feet — by walking out the door in protest.”

Based on those same values, we are increasingly mindful of our paper and plastic waste, the impact of our consumption habits and the amount of unnecessary car emissions we contribute. But, as we enter a new decade after experiencing the hottest one on record, I’m committed to turning up the heat on my approach to climate change.

I feel fortunate to start my career at a company whose values match my passion for sustainability, and where I have the opportunity to engage with clients on issues related to sustainability and climate change, as well as simply how to engage with the youth of the world. That’s already enabling me to make an even greater impact than I could as an individual.

As youth climate activists — and young people in general — continue to expand their mindset from a policy-change perspective to a focus on corporate responsibility, it will be increasingly important for the global business community to follow suit. I’m excited to play even a small role in helping to make that happen.

Times are changing, the planet is warming, and it’s time for companies to be on the right side of history or face the consequences of alienating their current and future customers and employees.