Every new generation leaves its mark on the world, reshaping not just culture and politics, but also business and the economy. Nowhere is this more evident than with today’s so-called Generation Y, who is having a profound effect on the way American companies think about energy and the environment as we begin to ascend the corporate ladder.
Also called Millennials, the cohort was born between the late 1970s and the late 1990s (the exact age bracket is often debated). As a group, Millennials tend to be liberal, confident, tolerant, non-conformist and prone to activism. We are famous for changing the rules to fit our needs. We innately believe that our opinion is important, and are enthusiastically vocal about it.
This does not mean we are slackers. To the contrary, Generation Y wants to work for causes in which we believe, and we like to achieve results. As Gen Y career paths begin to unfold, these passions are having a growing impact on what we expect from our workplace and professional culture.
Recent research by workplace designer (and green leader) Knoll confirms that Millennials feel the companies they work for “should espouse a social cause that goes beyond traditional profit and loss.”
Similarly, a report by Michigan State University and the consulting giant Deloitte observes that that Gen Y has increasingly moved from being campus “tree huggers” to real-life business leaders, focused on what’s often called “the triple bottom line,” people, planet and profit.
Indeed, the emerging green economy is now one of the hottest topics as Millennials begin to fill the nation’s business schools. Of the top ten graduate MBA programs ranked by Forbes Magazine last year, all have prominent environmental courses as part of the curriculum.
The marriage of environment and business has often been either criticized or overlooked, but things are changing. In our work at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), we’ve seen how this type of collaboration can result in big financial and environmental results, and we believe that these graduate students have the power to take it further.
In 2008, EDF launched a program called EDF Climate Corps, which embeds specially-trained MBA and public-sector management students in companies, universities and local governments to build a concrete, quantitative business case for investing in energy efficiency. Even though these fellows are only hired for 10 to 12 weeks, the story doesn’t end there.
Many of the students who have participated in this program are taking important, highly influential positions, some of which didn’t even exist until now. For example:
- Jamie Mikkelsen spent her summer as an EDF Climate Corps fellow at Target and was hired as a Strategic Program Manager of Materials at Intel.
- Megan Rast, who was an EDF Climate Corps fellow at eBay, is now the Environmental Sustainability Manager at Sony Pictures Entertainment.
- Elizabeth Turnbull was an EDF Climate Corps fellow at adidas and returned as the company’s Senior Manager for Environmental Affairs.
- Tracy Liu worked for Vivaki in 2010, and is now an associate in the Corporate Citizenship, Insights & Integration department at The Walt Disney Company.
In just four years, the EDF Climate Corps fellows have identified energy efficiency opportunities that could and save $1 billion in net operational costs and avoid 1 million metric tons of CO2 emissions. And as we continue to see the growth and development of Gen-Yers in Corporate America, many of them will be changing the rules to achieve results.
EDF is now accepting applications for organizations who want to save energy and money to participate in the EDF Climate Corps program. Visit us online to find out how your organizations can benefit from the perspective of the “big results” generation.
Monica Michaan is a proud Millennial. She helps to narrate the story of the EDF Corporate Partnerships Program through social media tools such as the EDF Business Blog
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