Harnessing the power of ‘generation S’

11th February 2016

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Ethical considerations are high on the list for younger members when deciding who to work for.

Our annual practitioner survey closed last month and we immediately examined the data for new trends. One of the most pressing and encouraging changes is coming from younger members or those with fewer than five years’ experience in the environment and sustainability profession, which we have named ‘generation S’ – with ‘S’ standing for sustainability. More than half of survey respondents in this group said they would refuse to work for an organisation with a bad reputation on environment, sustainability, ethical and human rights issues.

Although there is always the argument that these are the very organisations that most need the help of zealous professionals, poor reputation alone is enough to prevent younger IEMA members from taking a sullied salary. Rather, they said they wanted much more from a career than a wage packet – though from my experience that is typical of our entire IEMA membership.

This group tends to have a lifelong interest in environment, sustainability and nature and has deliberately sought a role that reflects this. There’s a real concern here about protection – of the planet, of people, of economies – that is unique to the environment and sustainability profession. I think this is what makes our profession special and is evidence of the kind of disruptive innovation that our membership needs to embrace and nurture. It is the motivation to reject norms, demand better performance and be fearless in the face of convention.

What we are seeing is a new generation of workers with fire in their bellies, and our membership is the cradle of this kind of practitioner. They’ve seen what more experienced professionals have achieved and changed, and they want to build on that momentum. The only challenge that deters them is flagrant disregard for the life of, and life on, the planet.

Raw talent alone can of course be disruptive, but not in the way that will achieve change and make businesses worldwide sit up and take notice. This ardour needs to be matched with the ability to talk the language of business and to articulate a compelling business case. That’s where IEMA and its more senior members have a clear role to play: coaching and nurturing those new to the profession to harness the power of their passion without suppressing it. Achieving the goals set by COP21 will need the very best from all of us, and I’m massively encouraged that the IEMA membership contains people with huge passion and good business sense.


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