Sustainability: Which definition are you working with?

Nic Crowther
Tue 11 Jul

Harvard Business Review describes Millennials as, “the most socially conscious generation since the 1960s.” That’s a telling comment, and demonstrates that the next major workforce different priorities to profit and wages.

For businesses, this means developing workplaces that align with a different set of values to those that were important 20 years ago. To keep the business alive during the GFC, a lot of companies had to become much more hard-edged and focussed on profitability. As a result, sustainability became as much about keeping the lights on, as it was turning them off before heading home.



Adapting to this new philosophy be a challenge. There is no doubt that the last five years has seen the concept of work and the workplace go through something of a revolution. Here are a few examples as to how sustainability is present in the contemporary workforce.



Modern companies are focussed on building a workplace that reflects the broader community. That means an even gender split, a significant number of new Australians and the ability for those with a disability to participate.

As an example, some experts claim that the NDIS has the potential to create one in five jobs in the coming decades. How many workplaces are prepared to take advantage of that?



Obviously, flexibility also means allowing employees to work from home, via the web, or at times that suit them. With an array of technological solutions available, not only can companies attract staff looking to work in this environment, they can realise significant savings on infrastructure and office equipment.


A sense of giving

As you know, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates have committed to giving away a majority of their wealth via The Giving Pledge. This is significant, because all three are highly respected and their influence is filtering all the way down to SMEs.

How does your business fare when it comes to philanthropy? The emerging workforce is very enthusiastic about the triple-bottom-line of Profit, People, Planet, so it’s essential to articulate how your enterprise (or the fruits thereof) are contributing to the community.



It might be that a block of time is given to community work, or the business matches donations on a dollar-for-dollar basis to a select group of charities. Regardless, Millennials are not excited by a culture that is built purely on a profit motive.

Again, in this regard, sustainability is as much about protecting the business as it is about creating a greater good.


Work as an ‘experience’

You can forget about having staff for five or ten years. Even the average two-year tenure is looking more and more fraught. The new workforce is happy to lob in, complete a project or task, and then disappear for a couple of months on a trip, only to reappear on your doorstep to check if “anything’s going?”



So, your business needs to adapt. Is it organised around modules of work that can bring in part-timers or contractors to execute the work, are is it essential for staff to be present in a more formal contact in order to achieve its targets?

While this will impact various industries in different ways, forward planning is needed in order to sustain this. Continual shift towards a less stable workforce.

So, what does this all mean? Put simply, a rush of dynamic, uncommitted and socially progressive employees will put pressure on the very viability of traditional companies.

This is not just about putting an air hockey table in the lunch room, but moving the entire culture to one that is outwardly engaged and looking to leave the world better than when it started.

For the employee and employer, sustainability might mean different things, but if there is potential for both, the future looks bright for everyone.