Millennials make the business case for corporate responsibility

Oct 16, 2015 | Blogs

Most of the press we hear about millennials centers on the older generations’ disappointment in the younger one.  News articles paint millennials as lazy, entitled narcissists who want to climb the career ladder without putting in the work.  However, this generation’s flaws are also, in part, the reason they feel entitled to not only get paid a decent salary, but also work for a responsible company that reflects their values.  At the recent Sustainable Brands’ New Metrics conference, I began to wonder if the widely criticized millennials may actually be the generation that would end the seemingly quixotic quest to convince the C-suite that corporate responsibility matters.

The conference presented formidable metrics that demonstrate corporate responsibility has a real impact on the company’s bottom line.   However, the slam dunk came when Audrey Choi from Morgan Stanley’s Institute for Sustainable Investing shared that 84% of millennials are interested in sustainable investing and they’re due to inherit $58 trillion from their parents in the coming years.  With this amount of money on the table, how could senior leaders not begin to give more weight to questions from investors focused on sustainable, responsible, and impact investments?

For years, sustainability professionals have spouted statistics that millennials care deeply about corporate responsibility.  This shift in values affects talent attraction and retention as this generation of employees place greater emphasis on working for responsible companies.  It also changes how companies market their products as surveys show millennials are more likely to switch to brands associated with responsible practices.  Executives need look no further than the company Toms which has convinced thousands of millennials to proudly march around with burlap sacks on their feet.  What the company’s shoe design may lack in fashion, it makes up with its promise to donate a pair of shoes to an impoverished person for every pair its sells.

As the speakers at the conference continuously emphasized, millennials are moving up in their careers, gaining more wealth, and looking to invest this money in a responsible way.  As this generation begins to control the purse strings, we may finally have the metrics we need to convince senior leadership that corporate responsibility is not just “the right thing to do,” it’s the strategic thing to do.