As climate- and waste-related issues continue to evolve, the next generation will create and deliver sustainable solutions that decision-makers haven’t yet dreamt of. That's why we must engage these rising leaders about the path to circularity and carbon neutrality.
Gen Z currently represents 40 percent of global consumers; and 93 percent of them believe companies should take action on environmental issues, according to a recent UNiDays survey.
To learn more and effectively engage this important group of consumers, this spring Dow hosted a “Stop the Waste, Close the Loop” event with business journalist Adam Lashinsky. We were joined by two influential young influencers — TikTok star and zero-waste advocate Caulin Donaldson, and social entrepreneur and Bogobrush CEO Heather McDougall.
Caulin and Heather both shared a fresh zeal for developing solutions that matter for our planet. From Caulin, we learned that his “Trash Caulin” platform, with more than 1.3M followers, has been a great entry point for engaging and educating Gen-Z on first how to combat pollution through beach clean-ups, and then how to get further involved with zero-waste solutions. In his videos, Caulin creates spontaneous and funny interactions to draw his viewers in, and then demonstrates how to recycle and rethink waste.
Heather shared that there is a huge market potential for young people interested in sustainable products, especially after they engage with influencers such as Caulin. Education and exposure from zero-waste influencers help drive her social enterprise, Bogobrush.
At Dow, we believe that engaging the next generation of leaders — from Gen Z to rising millennial professionals — starts with giving them a seat at the table to solve for sustainable solutions. Experienced professionals can learn from young people’s unique intersectional viewpoints on integrated issues — such as environmental justice — as well as cutting-edge strategies for digital and creative engagement.
In this spirit, we invited two of our own rising young leaders, Kit Dashwood and Jessica Rogers, to share more about what’s driving them to make impact within the packaging industry and at Dow. Prior to joining Dow on the commercial development team, Kit worked on clean water projects around the world. Today, at Dow, he harnesses his global sustainability experience by innovating with customers to bring new products to the market. Jessica pursued her PhD in chemical engineering before joining Dow as a research scientist. Today, she uses her background in science and technology to breathe new life into developing recycled plastics.
Both Kit and Jessica represent a promising group of young leaders in the packaging industry, bringing a fresh perspective and enthusiasm for building a more sustainable future for all.
Here’s what I learned ...
What do you think is the greatest problem society is facing right now? What issue or trend you are most concerned with?
Kit: Climate change is an existential threat to all of us, and this will affect every part of our lives. It will drastically change how society will operate.
Jessica: When I think about our biggest challenges, it’s not just climate change, but also the prevalence of plastic waste. Eradicating plastic pollution is near and dear to my heart; but it’s troubling to see people turning from plastic to different packaging materials that aren’t necessarily as holistically sustainable — like glass or cardboard. Despite what some may think, this is actually pushing us in the wrong direction.
“Addressing climate change requires more risk-taking. We need fundamental, systemic change. Understanding those changes will be hard and may be daunting, but we need to take risks. Because we have a global presence and are leaders in the industry, we need to be the ones to take the risk.”
What do you think we can do about it?
Kit: Personally, I think addressing climate change requires more risk-taking. We need fundamental, systemic change. Understanding those changes will be hard and may be daunting, but we need to take risks. Because we have a global presence and are leaders in the industry, we need to be the ones to take the risk. Others may not have the capacity or ability that we do.
Jessica: From a plastic waste perspective, it’s important to understand that there is not a one-size-fits all approach for every packaging solution. It’s also important to understand the nuances associated with each different packaging application, and determine what will be the best fit for a product through the lens of science, data and lifecycle analyses. To better address sustainability challenges, people need to be able to make more informed choices when it comes to climate change and reducing plastic waste.
What does purpose in business mean to you?
Jessica: It’s about achieving the bottom line and thinking about how we’re going to balance people, plastic and climate. All these elements need to be driving our business decisions.
Kit: In addition to what Jessica said, I think it’s about creating opportunities and empowerment; elevating people and brainstorming solutions to unlock innovation that couldn’t be done alone.
What made you want to join Dow?
Kit: Before I joined Dow, I asked myself, “How do I make the most impact?” Impact is a tough word to define; and there’s a debate on how to do that — whether you take a role in business, nonprofit or in government. As I was completing my master’s degree, I was keeping a close eye on headlines surrounding plastic waste. When I saw a position open at Dow, it felt like the perfect opportunity to pursue a role where I could drive impact. At Dow, there are so many resources and connections available to make a difference in sustainability and social impact.
Jessica: I agree with Kit: Working with Dow is one of the best opportunities to create meaningful change from the inside out. Before I joined Dow, I was completing my PhD in chemical engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology. My research was sustainability-focused; and while at school studying, I learned about Dow’s leadership and work in this space. Even though sustainability is “trending” and in the public eye more than ever before, Dow has been thinking about and prioritizing sustainability for a long time — we’ve been publishing sustainability goals for 20 years. Because I was working on sustainability for my PhD, choosing to work at Dow aligned well with my professional goals. And I was able to continue to focus on sustainability at Dow, and I appreciate seeing that opportunity grow every day.
How is your generation’s approach to things such as sustainability, media and work different from previous generations?
Kit: There’s a degree of empathy from Gen Z; we have an ability to empathize and feel empowered to address issues, speak truth to power, and challenge existing power structures. When it comes to sustainability, our generation says, “Climate change is real. We can fix this and take things on; but there’s some big changes we need to make, so let’s make them.”
Jessica: I agree with Kit. It’s an ever-evolving and hyperconnected world, where we’re confronting and fielding so much incoming information. We’re empowered to be more in touch with all the pressing issues that are going on globally, and want to make changes for the environment and the people we live and work with.
“Leaders such as C-Suite executives, policymakers and NGO directors need to know the position of power and influence they have, accept responsibility and take risks. I hope to see a bigger shift of leaders accepting responsibility — because no one else can.”
When considering sustainability and the environmental challenges in our lifetime, what is one piece of advice you would provide to senior leaders in business, government or non-profit right now?
Jessica: We’re all responsible for creating our own sustainable future. Like I mentioned before, there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. To solve for sustainability, it will take everyone understanding individual situations and collaborating across industries to address critical global challenges such as plastic waste and climate change.
Kit: We all need to do more, especially leaders such as C-suite executives, policymakers and NGO directors. These leaders need to know the position of power and influence they have, accept responsibility and take risks. A lot of us don’t have that ability and won’t get that ability because we’re trying to navigate our respective career paths. I hope to see a bigger shift of leaders accepting responsibility — because no one else can.
We’ve talked about senior leaders; now thinking about your own generation — what’s one word you would use to describe who you are and what you plan to be?
Kit: Optimism. To people who are depressed or scared about climate change, I’d say: We created everything that put us in this position, and we can create everything to get us out of it.
Jessica: It’s not a word but an idea: “to take action.” Global issues — from social injustice, sustainability, a circular economy, to plastic pollution — don’t have to be unsolvable. My advice to others is to find your niche and your passion and be able to contribute something.
Young people will inherit our planet — and its challenges. As concerns surrounding climate change and waste continue to evolve, the next generation will be creating and delivering sustainable solutions that decision-makers haven’t yet begun to dream of. That is why it’s imperative that we engage youth in dialogue about the development of circularity and the path to carbon neutrality.