As businesses continue to feel the pinch from tough economic conditions, the next generation of business leaders says in a new study that sustainability must be a priority for all businesses and sets out its plans for a more sustainable future.
Published on December 6, “The Sustainable Generation: The Sky Future Leaders Study” examines for the first time the attitudes and ambitions towards sustainability of 750 corporate graduate trainees, high potential middle-managers and MBA students. It uncovers a group who readily describe themselves as the first ‘sustainable generation’ and who have a clear vision for their own careers. But it also sends a warning that UK businesses aren’t matching their warm words with concrete actions.
The Sustainable Generation
Having grown up with issues like environmental protection and social responsibility as a constant feature in their lives, tomorrow’s business leaders are knowledgeable about sustainability and confident in what they will do in the future to address it.
They also send a clear message to HR directors about the importance of sustainability credentials to their own career plans. 34% of respondents see creating social and environmental value as an overall career goal, just 1 percentage point behind earning personal financial rewards.
Sustainability Makes Business Sense
The sustainable generation is clear that there is a strong business case for addressing social and environmental issues. 70% agree that sustainability can create new opportunities for business, while 66% believe difficult economic conditions should not be an excuse for businesses to ignore sustainability.
Business Performance Today
But sustainability is still not being fully integrated into the way the businesses operate. While 78% of Future Leaders believe that UK businesses are making a genuine effort to do so, just 3% believe they are fully succeeding.
The clear gap between words and actions is underlined by future leaders’ responses to businesses that claim to have a social purpose beyond creating profit to improve their reputation. Just 27% of tomorrow’s business leaders think companies make such claims because they genuinely believe them to be true.
Ready and Able to Lead
The report raises questions as to the quality and quantity of sustainability training provided by business schools and businesses. 35% of future leaders do not believe their employers are providing adequate levels of training or education on sustainability.
A More Sustainable Future
The sustainable generation outlines a five-point plan to go further than their predecessors in integrating sustainability when at the helm of the UK’s businesses. It is:
- Increasing employee engagement to harness the workforce creativity
- Collaborating across industry to share best practice
- Taking more responsibility for supply chain sustainability credentials
- Integrating sustainability into values and decisions
- Using new technology to improve business performance on sustainability
Jeremy Darroch, Sky Chief Executive, launched the study and said:
“While sustainability has become part of everyday business language, little has been known until now about the views of future leaders. This study shows that tomorrow’s business leaders are already engaged with sustainability and see it as an important part of their future careers. In their own words, this is ‘the sustainable generation’ and there is much we can all learn from them.
The report contains important lessons about the expectations that future leaders will have of the companies where they choose to work. All businesses have a strong incentive to provide better training, to tap into the ideas and creativity of their people, and to ensure their actions on sustainability live up to their words.
Much of today’s [December 6, 2011] report will resonate with businesses which have already recognized the opportunity that sustainability can bring. For example, at Sky, we don’t believe we have to choose between acting responsibly and being a successful commercial business. Because our future success is based on long-term relationships with customers, we’re committed to doing the right thing and making a positive contribution to life in the UK.”
Tomorrow’s business leaders identify themselves as the first ‘sustainable generation’. This is based on:
- the exposure they’ve had to sustainability, having grown up with issues like environmental protection and social responsibility in their lives and in the media;
- a personal belief that the environment and contributing to society are important;
- 69% of participants saying their personal beliefs affect which companies they trust and use themselves;
- 79% citing the vision and values of a company as an important factor when looking at potential employers;
- and 34% saying that creating social and environmental value through business is an important career goal.
As well as in their personal lives, they also believe that sustainability is important to business:
- 70% of participants agree that sustainability can create new opportunities for business;
- just 21% believe that sustainability has to come at the expense of profit;
- as well as new business opportunities, sustainability also offers the potential to achieve cost savings;
- 67% of respondents agree that sustainability can help differentiate start-ups;
- 66% believe difficult economic conditions should not be an excuse for businesses to ignore sustainability;
- and while international competitiveness, a failure to innovate and the need to reduce the UK’s deficit are identified as the most pressing challenges facing businesses now and in the future, climate change is the fastest-growing threat.
The sustainable generation has mixed views on current UK business sustainability performance:
- 78% of participants recognize that companies in the UK are making a real effort to address sustainability;
- only 3% believe that companies are succeeding in fully integrating sustainability;
- 32% believe that businesses communicate their sustainability policies and initiatives well enough internally to employees;
- and 31% well enough externally to customers;
- just 15% credit businesses with doing enough on the environment and 13% to support local communities;
- 62% cite an unwillingness or inability to pay for sustainable products and services as a barrier to progress;
- 62% also say other business priorities being seen as more important is a barrier;
- and 32% of middle managers, 30% of graduate trainees and 18% of MBA students believe businesses that claim to have a social purpose beyond creating profit.
Members of the sustainable generation are keen to help move the sustainability agenda forward:
- 96% of respondents plan on being involved with sustainability in their careers;
- 72% credit their employer or business school with encouraging them to take a long-term view;
- as well as commercial benefits, sustainability can help address external pressures and help them as individuals to stand out in their careers;
- but just 35% feel they have received sufficient sustainability training from their business school or employer;
- and 26% cite university reforms and access to higher education as a key threat to UK business in 5-10 years time.
And they have a five-point plan on how they will address sustainability once they reach senior executive positions themselves:
- Improve employee engagement – create a culture that harnesses employees’ creativity and empowers them to drive sustainability initiatives forward;
- Collaborate even with competitors – businesses should take collective responsibility by sharing best practice and helping each other to act more sustainably;
- Take responsibility for the supply chain – understand the supply chain to mitigate risk and help other companies improve;
- Integrate sustainability into values and decisions – make sustainability part of everything a business does by embedding it in its values;
- Use new technology – be an early adopter but don’t just rely on technology alone.
This report presents the results of research undertaken by Sky to determine the attitudes and aspirations of the UK’s next generation of business leaders towards sustainability. The study is based on research undertaken by market research agency Populus, who interviewed 751 graduate trainees, current and recently graduated MBA students, and high potential middle managers earmarked for leadership positions. Participants were recruited via social media networks and existing market research panels. The Association of MBAs, the international authority on postgraduate business education, secured responses from MBA students studying both full and part-time degrees.
Populus conducted in-depth telephone interviews with 20 participants, all of whom had completed the initial online survey. In order to gain greater insight from all three groups of participants, a workshop was held in London for 11 future leaders. The research was conducted between September and November 2011.
Sky is UK’s fastest-growing home communications provider, and entertains & excites 10.4 million homes through the most comprehensive multichannel, multi-platform television service in the UK and Ireland. For more information, visit http://corporate.sky.com.