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Effective Sustainability, Now and Together

9/24/2014 1:45:31 PM

Effective Sustainability, Now and Together

By Nigel Salter, CEO, Salterbaxter MSLGROUP, EMEA Head of Corporate and Brand Citizenship, MSLGROUP The message from Millennials across Europe is clear  they see business as needing to play a major, active role in improving society and they want business to take action in all the traditional domains of sustainability, in its widest economic meaning. They are concerned about the economy, the environment and about health issues.

'So far so good' is probably what many businesses would say to this. 'We are already focused on these issues and we're actively addressing them  no need to worry'.

Not so fast. The devil is, as ever, in the detail.

There are three crucial insights that European businesses and brands need to understand about Millennials' views.

1. Effective Sustainability

A key point is the degree to which Millennials expect business to be active in addressing sustainability issues. Policy and PR will simply not wash  the expectation is for serious†and effective performance in these areas. This will in part be explained by the recent economic crisis across Europe that has led to a serious lack of faith in business and an increased expectation that business needs to work differently and deliver different†outcomes. Link this to the transparency being driven by social media and businesses that aren't thinking this way will be caught in an uncomfortable pincer movement.

Specifically, and overwhelmingly, Millennials from across Europe included these in the top five issues they want business to get involved in

  • Expanding use of renewable energy sources
  • Protection of the environment
  • Protection of factory workers' rights in developing countries

Millennials' expectations from business are quite diverse. They also considered the following as part of the top priorities for businesses to address:

  • Impact of large corporations on small business (Sweden, Denmark, Italy and Poland)
  • Helping raise people's self-esteem (France and Poland)
  • Access to technology and lack of skills in math, science and technology (Italy and Netherlands)

Nigel Salter - The European Perspective 2

2. Economy as Top Priority

The poor economic conditions of the last few years are also, no doubt, the reason for the second key insight in Europe  local matters most.

Millennials seem to have realistic views of the global supply chain and expect decent standards for workers in developing markets ñ but they seem to be even more focused on job creation, inflation and prices, earning enough to live right  their ability to thrive economically. With structural youth unemployment across the whole of Europe running at a staggering 28% this is hardly surprising. But the message is clear  business has to help drive jobs and improve economic conditions close to home if it is to gain the trust and support of Millennials.

3. Millennials as Partners

Millennials don't just want to be told about what business is doing in sustainability (although they do want to know about it to help distinguish the leaders from the pack). They want business to go beyond this and to actually engage and involve them - to partner, to educate and to facilitate the changes needed.

This is perhaps an outcome of European Millennials' cultural view of active citizenship as an individual responsibility, and in some cases, almost a social duty. In some countries, such as the Netherlands and Poland this comes almost as a surprise, with Millennials overcoming local attitudes of individuality and passivity respectively.

While European Millennials share several similarities, there are some nuances by country. For instance, European Millennials are quite similar in the importance they place on sharing their voice. However, those from France, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands would rather voice their concerns on a democratic platform, while Millennials from Italy would prefer to do so on social media. Another example is Millennials' views towards financial donations. Millennials from the UK, Italy and Netherlands would prefer activities that do not include donations, while this is the de facto action in Poland and a strong preference for Millennials in Denmark and Germany.

The conclusions for European businesses are both reassuring on the one hand and a wake-up call on the other. In focusing on sustainability, business is on the right track and in tune with Millennials' concerns. But it needs to go beyond talking. Business needs to play its role in improving the local economic conditions of European Millennials and it needs to engage and partner with these people  both as employees and consumers - rather than simply communicate with them.

There is a huge opportunity here for European businesses and brands to make the connection to this transformative group in society. We all need to build on the work already being done in sustainability but bring the Millennials along to help solve the challenges.

The Future of Business Citizenship - People's Insights Magazine by MSLGROUP

Nigel SalterNigel is a well-known speaker, commentator and opinion former in the sustainability and citizenship space. He contributes regularly to the high level discussions around the world and specializes in providing strategic counsel to senior management teams and facilitating senior management dialogues across a wide range of strategy subjects and a wide range of industries. Follow him on twitter: @NigelSalter2