Can we leave it to the next generation?

by | Jul 31, 2019

In June, I had the good fortune of participating in a lively panel discussion at Innovation Forum’s “Positive Impact” conference in London. This panel delved into some early research on Generation Z (people currently between the ages of 7 and 22) and explored what we might expect from this generation of rising consumers and change agents. As far as panels go, this was by far the most fun and engaging panel I’ve seen at a conference! Heralding from the finance, NGO and independent research sectors, all my co-panelists offered incredibly unique perspectives and insights. Unlike other panels I’ve seen, where drawing out questions and reactions is like pulling teeth, the audience quickly jumped in, sharing their observations and insights. The session was very interactive and inspiring – panelists and audience members alike shard stories and examples of younger people leading the way in making the world a more sustainable place.

At the Erb Institute, we are seeing a tremendous increase in interest and demand among U-M’s younger students for business sustainability content.

Not only do our undergraduate students want the world to change, but they also want the skills, training and access to jobs to be able to bring about that change.

That being said, as we know from research by our own faculty director, Dr. Joe Árvai, the passion we see in these students may not actually be representative of their generation as a whole—these students may simply value or be politically motivated to value sustainability more than their peers. And sometimes, such passion might not translate into action. So, while it might make us feel better to think about how today’s children and young adults—whether as consumers, activists or business leaders—will save us from the mess we’ve created, it’s simply not wise (or fair) to put that responsibility on their shoulders.

P.S. This panel was a “WOManel” (all female panel)! Kudos to our colleagues at Innovation Forum for working so hard to host more inclusive and diverse events.