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Future Leaders Study identifies “sustainable generation”

Future LeadersA new study finds that the coming generation of UK business leaders believes that sustainability must be a priority for every business, from start-ups to established corporations, despite difficult economic conditions.

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The Sustainable Generation: The Sky Future Leaders Study investigated the attitudes and ambitions towards sustainability of 750 corporate graduate trainees, high potential middle-managers and MBA students, through a survey, interviews and a workshop.

This “sustainable generation” bring a personal commitment to environmental and social values to the workplace, having been exposed to the concepts of social responsibility and environmental protection throughout their lives. One graduate trainee cited Blue Peter’s campaigns on recycling in the 1980s as a forerunner of ideas that have become mainstream.

For this generation of business leaders, sustainability is seen as an essential part of business and the source of new opportunities. A striking 96% of respondents said that they plan to be involved with sustainability in their careers.

Choosing sustainability

For this generation, the values and vision they share with a company are important in determining their involvement as customers or employees. 69% of respondents said that their personal beliefs affected their use and trust of companies, while 79% said that the values of a company were an important factor when looking at potential employers.

More to do

The young leaders believe there is still much to do to achieve sustainability in UK business. Most consider UK businesses to be making efforts to address sustainability but only 3% believe that companies are succeeding in fully integrating sustainability into their businesses. Business were criticised for taking too long to act, limiting sustainability to premium products and services, and addressing aspects of sustainability selectively. Only 15% of respondents thought businesses were doing enough to protect the environment and 13% believed they were supporting local communities.

Communication is also seen as lacking, with under a third seeing business as having successfully communicated their sustainability policies and initiatives to customers or to employees. Participants in the study were clear that words had to be backed up by strong actions and that evidence was necessary to demonstrate authentic environmental credentials.

Jeremy Darroch, Sky Chief Executive, stressed the need for companies to become more sustainable and to better communicate their actions:

“Too many companies aren’t effectively communicating their motives for acting sustainably. It’s not enough to explain what we’ve done; we also have to demonstrate why we’re doing it. We all have to continue getting better at everything we do. And this study shows that by integrating sustainability into how businesses operate today, we can ensure our future leaders are ready to rise to the challenge, all our companies succeed and we can go on contributing to society, for many years to come.”

Leading action on sustainability

While the sustainable generation have a good knowledge of sustainability issues and are confident of addressing them in their careers, they identify a lack of training in this area, with just 35% feeling that they have received sufficient sustainability training. However, the majority feel that they have been encouraged to take a long-term view by their employer or business school.

Respondents clearly identified areas in which they intend to address sustainability once they reach senior positions:

  • 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.

Despite the participants’ strong motivation to take businesses in a sustainable direction, they considered employees amongst the least likely future pressures on business to be more sustainable. Government and regulators (66%), customers (56%) and competitors (44%) are expected to be the leading sources of pressure.

Aspiring to sustainability

The 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.

Launching the study, Jeremy Darroch explained its significance:

“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 report will resonate with businesses which have already recognised 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.”

The research reflects Sky’s belief, set out in its Bigger Picture Review, in making a wider contribution to the communities in which it operates, by helping to tackle climate change, improving life through sports, and opening the arts to more people.

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