Generation Y to the rescue?

Last week, I attended my first Green Monday. GMs “pour les intimes” (as we say in French) is a monthly event where sustainability folk from big corporations come together to discuss business & sustainability related topics. This month’s session focused on The Age of Trust – a particularly poignant theme which seems to come up again and again. But I won’t dwell on that; I already did in my last blog with Jules.

More specifically, the discussion and the plenary roundtable I took part in focused on the Millennials – Generation Y – and whether they would demand and pressure change like no other generation before.

I’m Generation Y, so find this question particularly interesting. Will we rise to the challenge and do what it takes to save the world? An army of Millennials equipped with smart phones, twitter accounts and the power to cause havoc from the comfort of our sofas?

Why Generation Y might step up to the challenge

There are certainly reasons to believe that we can and we will:

  • It’s engrained in us: we’ve grown up knowing that climate change is a fact, not a possibility. We were serenaded by Captain Planet. Our parents were hippies (or so this Guardian article would have you believe anyway). The “echo-boomer” generation was born with enviromentalism as the norm.
  • We have plenty of reasons to be angry: economic crises, joblessness, the prospects of a resource scarce world, untrustworthy politicians, dishonest corporations, endless scandals… you name it.
  • We have high expectations: we want fulfilling lives. We don’t want to work in jobs that don’t aspire to something greater. As kids, we were told we could do anything we want, and we still believe it.
  • We’ve got the tools to do it: we’re educated and more connected than any generation before. We have no excuse to not be aware of the deep social, economic and environmental issues that surround us. What’s more, we can use these tools to mobilize huge numbers of people to back a cause through a simple click.

Why Generation Y might not be what it’s cracked up to be

The picture isn’t so rosy after all…

  • Our generation is said to be narcissistic, lethargic and somewhat fatalistic. Even though we might be up for challenging the status-quo, do we actually do anything about it? We’re much less radical and active than the 60/70s generations that marched on the streets demanding change. And protesting on the streets doesn’t seem as cool as it used to be, does it?
  • The majority of us are quite apolitical. We don’t vote. We don’t get involved. And even if we do, our political affiliations can change overnight. We’re fickle.
  • This generation of so-called “echo-boomers” is not actually that widespread. In my sustainability bubble, I have plenty of friends who care but beyond that, I’m not so sure. And even those that do “care” can still be seen shopping at Primark, drinking Starbucks out of`disposable mugs and flying left and right across the globe.
  • Generation Y is actually greatest in Asia, where they haven’t necessarily grown up with eco-aware parents and where all the points raised in favour of Gen Y being heroes might not actually be relevant.

At the end of our roundtable discussion we were asked to vote on two things: will Generation Y demand a greater degree of transparency from business and institutions? To that, like others who were there with me, I’m inclined to say yes. And perhaps scandals like the latest horsemeat kerfuffle will catalyse that movement. Our own lives have become more public through facebook, twitter, linkedin and other social networks; we have access to endless information and news spreads faster than you can keep up with. It makes sense that we demand and expect the same from business, public individuals or other institutions.

Then we were asked to vote on whether this greater demand for transparency would translate into us genuinely pressuring change like no other generation before. Responses were mixed. Those representing older generations were rather sceptical. Millennials at the table voted yes – not necessarily out of conviction but mostly out of hope… because, considering what we’re facing, if Generation Y doesn’t beat the drum until the cows come home, then who will?


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