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Listening to youth

Corporate Citizenship

Gen Z. The generation broadly defined as those born from 1995 to 2010. You’ve probably heard of them – or rather heard them – marching for climate justice, ditching meat and milk and staring at their phone. You’ve almost certainly read about them – indeed the abundance of articles, reports and research on generational trends is overwhelming. With Gen Z coming to the fore as consumers and employees, understanding this generation is increasingly business-critical.

So, what do we know about Gen Z? Perhaps that they want to buy from companies with strong sustainability credentials, or that they want to work for companies with purpose. Studies that reveal such preferences can give a good insight into generational changes, but they can never show the full picture. Stereotyping generations is something we love to do, but it is important to go beyond broad studies to home in on your specific stakeholders.

For companies to understand the nuances within generational expectations, listening to them is key. Only by engaging with Gen Z directly on the issues relevant to your business, can the topics that truly matter be pinpointed. Furthermore, this is vital for your ability to communicate on them authentically.

Enter, the sustainability department. Through its engagement with stakeholders on sustainability topics, this team is plugged into the expectations of those that matter most to the business. Through materiality assessments, the business priorities on sustainability topics according to key stakeholders are made clear. While employees’ and customers’ are typical views that are sourced, why not extend this to those to coming down the line?

Doing so would help to delve deeper into the Gen Z expectations that matter to your business. This may help to raise nuances in generational needs and concerns for your business or industry, even seeing how they change over time. From here, the business can take an informed decision about how it is to respond to different stakeholders, now and in the future.

Some companies are already listening and responding to changing preferences. One such company is explored in this month’s guest contribution. Luxury holding company Richemont embarked on Gen Z-focused materiality, which raised some important generational differences in sustainability priorities.

Elsewhere, we can see companies making relevant changes based on Gen Z. For example, the veganism drive is influencing McDonald’s decision to increasing the number of meat-free items on its global menus. In addition, the calls for diversity are bringing changes to the fashion industry, highlighted by the Fenty Beauty collection Beauty for All campaign, featuring models of all sizes and ethnic backgrounds.

So, for all businesses looking to unlock the door to authentic engagement with Gen Z, first engage your sustainability team. It may just have the key.

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