Davos, Switzerland — If you can’t beat them, bribe them. Are the days of environmentalists versus capitalists coming to an end? DSM, a global firm based in The Netherlands, is tying forty-percent of its executives’ short-term incentive pay to whether or not the company meets its environmental and sustainability goals.
What is driving capitalism’s sudden interest in saving the environment? My guess is that it’s the Millennials, the twenty-somethings who make up the most rapidly growing demographic in our current workforce. When Millennials go looking for jobs, they seek out employers who are a cultural fit. That is, they want to work for companies which care about the same things they care about and which demonstrate that care both by the way they do business and by the non-business causes they support. Outside of Silicon Valley and the High-Tech world, Millennials have not yet made it to the C-Suite. However they are the force which is motivating a growing number of companies to select and act on a cause. Actions companies take may include realigning their business practices to support the cause they’ve adopted, allowing employees to perform volunteer work on company time, educating their employees and their clients about the cause, or making outright donations to non-profit organizations.
Because they are tuned into and care deeply about such things as culture and branding, Millennials are making an impression on corporations not only as prospective employees but as prospective consumers of their products and services. The radio station I listen to each morning (The Rod Ryan Show on Houston’s 94.5 The Buzz) appeals to a Millennial audience. In their sometimes R-rated, may-not-be-suitable-for-more-sensitive-listeners morning banter, the Buzz’s DJs make more references to “giving back” and talk more about what celebrity or what local business is doing what good deeds than any station I have ever listened to before. Not only that, the show itself supports its favorite causes. Its Drumsticks for Drumsticks campaign auctions off drumsticks signed by famous drummers to raise money for the Houston Food Bank. In the fall, it raises funds to provide backpacks to underprivileged Houston school children. This spirit of giving back is being repeated by other companies throughout the United States whose clientele is primarily Millennials.
Because the Millennials’ manner of speaking (concise, direct, straight-from-the-hip) often comes across as curt, Baby Boomers tend to write them off as rude. But these young people have heart. They not only care about the world, they pay attention to how individual companies treat the environment, animals, third world countries, and other underdogs, and they demonstrate their concern by choosing which companies they will or will not work for and whose products or services they will or will not buy.
The BBC reports that “At the Davos 2014 World Economic Forum, a gathering of more than 1600 global business leaders in Switzerland this week, one of the hot topics is ‘doing business the right way’.” In fact, the summit’s theme is Reshaping the World.
When I was growing up, Bob Dylan sang, in his awful twang, about “The Times, They Are A-Changing.” Well, guess what. Nothing is static. The times are changing again, maybe, (sorry, all you doomsayers) for the better. Under pressure from our young people, corporations are recognizing that the bottom line and making the world a better place are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In fact, they may be more closely linked than we ever imagined before.