Generation Y to the rescue?

Last week, I attended my first Green Monday. GMs “pour les intimes” (as we say in French) is a monthly event where sustainability folk from big corporations come together to discuss business & sustainability related topics. This month’s session focused on The Age of Trust – a particularly poignant theme which seems to come up again and again. But I won’t dwell on that; I already did in my last blog with Jules.

More specifically, the discussion and the plenary roundtable I took part in focused on the Millennials – Generation Y – and whether they would demand and pressure change like no other generation before.

I’m Generation Y, so find this question particularly interesting. Will we rise to the challenge and do what it takes to save the world? An army of Millennials equipped with smart phones, twitter accounts and the power to cause havoc from the comfort of our sofas?

Why Generation Y might step up to the challenge

There are certainly reasons to believe that we can and we will:

  • It’s engrained in us: we’ve grown up knowing that climate change is a fact, not a possibility. We were serenaded by Captain Planet. Our parents were hippies (or so this Guardian article would have you believe anyway). The “echo-boomer” generation was born with enviromentalism as the norm.
  • We have plenty of reasons to be angry: economic crises, joblessness, the prospects of a resource scarce world, untrustworthy politicians, dishonest corporations, endless scandals… you name it.
  • We have high expectations: we want fulfilling lives. We don’t want to work in jobs that don’t aspire to something greater. As kids, we were told we could do anything we want, and we still believe it.
  • We’ve got the tools to do it: we’re educated and more connected than any generation before. We have no excuse to not be aware of the deep social, economic and environmental issues that surround us. What’s more, we can use these tools to mobilize huge numbers of people to back a cause through a simple click.

Why Generation Y might not be what it’s cracked up to be

The picture isn’t so rosy after all…

  • Our generation is said to be narcissistic, lethargic and somewhat fatalistic. Even though we might be up for challenging the status-quo, do we actually do anything about it? We’re much less radical and active than the 60/70s generations that marched on the streets demanding change. And protesting on the streets doesn’t seem as cool as it used to be, does it?
  • The majority of us are quite apolitical. We don’t vote. We don’t get involved. And even if we do, our political affiliations can change overnight. We’re fickle.
  • This generation of so-called “echo-boomers” is not actually that widespread. In my sustainability bubble, I have plenty of friends who care but beyond that, I’m not so sure. And even those that do “care” can still be seen shopping at Primark, drinking Starbucks out of`disposable mugs and flying left and right across the globe.
  • Generation Y is actually greatest in Asia, where they haven’t necessarily grown up with eco-aware parents and where all the points raised in favour of Gen Y being heroes might not actually be relevant.

At the end of our roundtable discussion we were asked to vote on two things: will Generation Y demand a greater degree of transparency from business and institutions? To that, like others who were there with me, I’m inclined to say yes. And perhaps scandals like the latest horsemeat kerfuffle will catalyse that movement. Our own lives have become more public through facebook, twitter, linkedin and other social networks; we have access to endless information and news spreads faster than you can keep up with. It makes sense that we demand and expect the same from business, public individuals or other institutions.

Then we were asked to vote on whether this greater demand for transparency would translate into us genuinely pressuring change like no other generation before. Responses were mixed. Those representing older generations were rather sceptical. Millennials at the table voted yes – not necessarily out of conviction but mostly out of hope… because, considering what we’re facing, if Generation Y doesn’t beat the drum until the cows come home, then who will?

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11 responses to “Generation Y to the rescue?

  1. I am from Generation Y and I never knew it!

    I personally feel out of touch with my peers, I know very few people my age who seems to particularly care about anything other than themselves and I have had moments of dispare that they have no clue what is really going on in the world around us.

    I like to hope that we (the change makers – even though there may be a very small number of us) are able to be ‘the change’ but I fear that nothing will happen and we will end up in a sorry mess and I will laugh and say “I told you so” and those that are used to their consumer lives will have no clue how to survive. I however will be fine and so will my children as I am desperately trying to learn skills that I will need when the time comes and I am able to pass these skills on to my kids.

    This Generation Y girl feels a bit lost to be honest, I’d love to connect, it’s a lonely existence being a world changer in a sea of consumers.

  2. Hi Llana, a slight correction to your post; Gen-Y are not Millennials! Gen-Y today are 22-34, Millennials are 13-22. Gen-Y is generally known as lazy, pissed at the world etc and came from helicopter parents. Millennials on the other hand are motivated, big on Social issues, tech savvy etc. Happy to provide more is requested.

    • Hey Wayne, thanks for the comment. At the event I attended, they used both terms interchangeably. On wikipedia (though that’s not to say one should believe everything wikipedia says…) Generation Y is also referred to as the Millennial Generation – is that different than “the Millennials?” Do share more as I’m curious! Cheers

      • Hey there Llana, well sorry to say, but the event used the terms wrong along as well as Wikipedia. Any Teen research will confirm that Gen-Y and Millennials are different age groups and very different mentality. What would you specifically like to know more about, I have over 10 gig of research on Gen-Y/Millennials, I am a qualified Teen Mentor and Founder of Zimron, a soon to be re-launched online resource for teens globally. I’m certainly happy to help!

  3. Hello Llana

    Thanks for sharing these musings. I am never usually one to respond to things I read on t’internet but I felt compelled to this time. I’d like to think as myself as someone who does try to raise awareness and force change on matters regarding making the world a better place.
    Like yourself, I have many friends who are conscientious and aware of the larger issues facing human development and ecological damage. Sadly this awareness rarely translates into a willingness to act. I have found myself wondering what is it that stops enlightened and intelligent young people from taking action on issues that they know to be damaging and unjust.
    I have come to think that there are several causes of this apathy. One is the age old problem of limited alternatives. We both know that this shouldn’t really be an excuse at all as there are many progressive movements out there doing good work for people and for planet. I think that many people need these alternatives presented to them through channels they know and trust before they join and act upon the change that they already believe in. Unfortunately the trusted channel of democratically elected MP’s only serves to offer us homogenously programed vote winners who on –the-whole care very little beyond the election, and then –if successful- their 5 year term. The trusted channel of mainstream media is also sadly crippled by corporate interests and a need to make profit in a difficult market. Why else would James Delingpole get any coverage at all, if it wasn’t for the need to attract attention.
    That is why I think one role of an activist is to try and raise awareness and give authenticity to progressive movements to friends that trust in your opinions and actions. I think this would be helped massively by a large and publicised victory in one of the many battlegrounds that progressive movements operate in (equality, development, justice, environment). I would hope that a successful #NoKXL campaign would have this sort of impact in the US.
    The other main cause in my eyes would be the generally myopic nature that appears to be hardwired into our though processes. Again I won’t be winning any prizes for originality for suggesting short-termism as a cause for stunted action on progressive agendas but I think that it is arguably more relevant now. The financial crisis and subsequent recession has left many young and talented people scrabbling to find paid work once education has been completed. The ability to take the time to act on longer term ecological issues is severely hampered when one has to jump from internship to internship whilst still paying extortionate rent. Even those who find stability in graduate schemes or full time employment will often be myopically blinkered by the competitive nature of their work place.
    Anyways, that’s my take on Gen. Y. I would hope that the progressive and environmental movements are only one victory away from offering a credible alternative to the mainstream. Or perhaps less invitingly, we will have to wait for a powerful and damaging environmental event to shake us free from our myopic blinkers. I guess time will tell…
    Keep up the good work!

    • Hi James, thank you for sharing your take on Gen Y, interesting to read. I’ve had many discussions where we’ve wondered whether it would indeed take a major event to shake us up…

  4. Really refreshing to see such an honest and candid analysis of the issues each section of a population faces currently in this area and, potentially, in different global locations. Good learning points, may be, on how to intervene with each and convince? I’d love to come up with a similarly eloquent analysis of Generation X, baby boomers and wrinklies and all the other socio-economic sub-groups, but am time pressured right now. Good stuff, Ilana and do keep up the good work – I’d like to hear more about 6.5 heads, no disrespect to your new male colleague!

  5. Thanks a lot Tim. Would indeed be really interesting to compare generations – maybe I can follow up with other blog posts! Happy to tell you more about 6heads (+1) – what’s the best way to share that with you?

    • Hi Ilana,

      There has been quite a lot of work done on inter-generational aspects in the more classic area of employee engagement in the HR sphere (and internationally too), but to get the data you will either need to pay for access or find a friendly client who subscribes with an interest in the area! You can contact me via: tim@good-measures.com or 020 7836 5732, would be good to connect and find out more…

      Best,

      Tim

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