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Millennials Key Drivers of Small Business Sustainability

Millennials will lead the way for small and medium businesses (SMBs) in future conversations and efforts around conservation, energy efficiency and environmental stewardship, according to a new survey by Cox Enterprises.

The second annual Cox Conserves Sustainability Survey found that Millennials have a huge appetite for sustainability and will drive adoption of these practices. Millennials showed greater knowledge about sustainability than other age cohorts and a strong interest in implementing sustainable business practices, but noted that in their current roles, they lacked the influence needed to effect change.

Millennials have the most knowledge of sustainability than other generations, with 80 percent of those surveyed indicating that they have at least a fair amount of knowledge.

Millennials are more committed to increasing sustainability. Nearly 60 percent of Millennials are committed to increasing sustainable activities in their businesses, which is significantly higher than the 49 percent of Boomers, who are more likely to be the top decision makers.

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Millennials believe they lack enough influence to effect change now, the survey found. Only 27 percent of Millennials in management roles believe that they have a great deal of influence on their organization’s sustainability practices, and more than half (53 percent) of Millennials say that their leadership is impeding their company’s sustainability initiatives. The top decision makers in SMBs, such as owners and partners, are more likely to be Boomers.

As for year-over-year findings, the survey showed that there has been little change in the number of SMBs that have implemented sustainable business practices. Only 62 percent have implemented some type of company or employee-based program to reduce energy, encourage recycling, etc. That number is nearly identical to the findings in the 2014 survey.

SMB leaders identified the sustainable business activities they believe are most critical to implement now, as well as those that should take place in the next five years in terms of operations, investments and employees.

  • Using supplies more efficiently (67 percent) is critical today, and utilizing solar technology is the top item to take place in the next five years (49 percent).
  • SMBs believe that buying or leasing refurbished goods is the most critical activity today (47 percent), and they identified buying alternative energy as the top item to look at over the next five years (47 percent).
  • Encouraging employees to power down equipment is critical today (55 percent), while offering employees incentives to purchase eco-friendly vehicles (31 percent) is noted as the top activity to look at in the next five years.

These results mirror the findings of a September report by Cone Communications, which found that Millennials are universally more engaged in corporate social responsibility efforts, including everything from buying products associated with a cause they care about to using their online networks to amplify social and environmental messages.

Similarly, Millennials have higher expectations for sustainable product packaging than their older counterparts, according to a study by Finnish packaging solutions company Stora Enso.


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