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Mobilising millennials for a new normal

29 September 2014

Mobilising millennials for a new normal

Niall Dunne, BT’s chief sustainability officer spoke at the Social Good Summit during New York Climate Week 2014 on the power of the Millennial generation to make sustainability the new normal. Here, he explains why a collective effort is needed to make this a reality.

Niall Dunne

As anyone who is in New York this week for the UN Climate Summit 2014 will be only too aware, despite all the rhetoric and the action, the world still needs more change.

Our resources are approaching capacity; we need a new normal on a grand scale. And while the world's leaders gather to hammer out those bold announcements and actions they were challenged to bring with them, the rest of us have our part to play too, in particular big business.

The connected world we have collectively helped create should be about realising more opportunities than the millionth view of the millionth cat video. Communications technology can, and should, be used as a power for good, enabling the forces of crowd-sourced inspiration and collaboration to inspire yet more innovation and action.

A force for change that helps mobilise the very people whose future we are playing with - the Millennial generation, some of whom are already making sustainability the new normal in their own lives but need to be supported and enabled so that their voices are heard and their actions count.

But the overall narrative around climate change remains largely one of cynicism and gloom, not optimism, despite the fact that, as I pointed out in my recent blog, there is clear evidence that what is good for the planet can also be good for business.

Yet, inspiring people to change behaviour remains our greatest challenge.

The truth is sustainability itself is also in need of a makeover – to be a bit less worthy and a lot more engaging, optimistic and exciting. More relevant and appealing to a new generation who want to make a difference.

Which is where there is hope. The world’s Millennial generation, numbering some 1.8 billion globally, care about environmental and sustainability issues and some are already passionately engaged. But this influential generation wants to do more and, in order to really engage them, we need a new conversation and a fresh approach.

This generation wants to make change happen. 84 per cent say making a difference in the world is more important than professional recognition. 3 out of 4 believe their generation is starting a movement to change outdated systems.

They are influential of their peers (and even their parents) and are big on collaboration.

Technology defines them. They don’t know a world without the Internet or smart phones. They support new, disruptive models that echo their values.

They see social media as a force for change and use it to share experiences and opinions that shape behaviour.

They are a big group. And the real opportunity to make change lies in the “uncommitted majority”, making up around 38 per cent of that generation. They are both aspirational in terms of their material values, but are responsible consumers and have high social and environmental values.

Some are already engaged in the debate, but many are not. Partly because the right platforms don’t exist to excite them, harness their collective voice or provide a platform for what they are already doing.

There is an opportunity to make them part of the story - to engage them on their terms and their digital and social platforms. In short, to inspire great actions through great content.

But on platforms which don't just disseminate content but truly engage this generation, build on the actions many of them are taking and inspire them to get more involved in shaping their own futures.

The very best brains in business, NGOs and the media have the ability to pool their skills to bring something like this about, breaking down the normal competitive barriers to come together in a citizen-facing global initiative.

A collective effort to establish sustainable ways of living as the new normal.

The good news is some of them are already working on this and later this year will begin helping ensure the voices of the world’s Millennial generation are heard and their actions count like never before.

Let’s make a #NewNormal.