Half of the picture is a green forest next to a big city from above

How can Gen Z help organizations to be greener?

What does it take for businesses to become environmentally sustainable? It's vital to give Gen Z a seat in the boardroom 

February 15 2022Angelina Eßer

The sad destruction of our beautiful world

In 2012, the WWF announced that we live as if we have an extra planet at our disposal. The unstoppable demand for finite resources puts massive pressure on Earth’s biodiversity and threatens our very existence.  Industry makes up a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, but climate change concerns us all. What contribution can Gen Z make to save our planet, and how is T-Systems leading the way with its Chief Tomorrow Officer program?

Glimpse the future by looking back

Plastic bottle in the ocean

Many of us know the story of King Henry VIII, infamous for his six wives and for separating the Church of England from papal authority (as well as countless heads from shoulders). Henry reigned over Tudor England from 1509 to 1547. Plastic had yet to be invented – it would first appear in 1832 as a cheap substitute for ivory or tortoiseshell.

But let’s imagine that plastic existed in Henry’s time and that instead of drinking from goblets, he drank from plastic bottles. It’s only now — over 450 years on — that they would have decomposed. The toll our use-once and throw-away culture takes on Earth is undisputed. Sixty million plastic bottles are dumped in landfills every day, and by 2050, there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish

And we need not look far to witness other consequences of our presence on this beautiful planet. By 2100, half the world’s species could be extinct because of climate change while our trash — like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, swells.   

Gen Z: the generation to fix things?  

Are we to rage at the sightlessness and unstoppable greed of our predecessors’ choices? Weep for the world that we – Generation Z, and our children and grandchildren will inherit? No. Frankly, there is no time.

Instead, we must channel our energies positively. We must do everything to halt and reverse the ravages on land, oceans, and the air we breathe. We must protect our precious flora and fauna. It is not too late. The Young Generation can be the generation of hope and action; we can play a vital role in healing our planet. Why? Because the alternative is unthinkable.

But are we qualified for the job? Studies show that we are the most “plugged in” generation, ranking climate as our number one issue. We’re also driving a global shift towards a vegan world. And more than any other generation, we expect brands to be conscious of the mark they leave on the environment.

As digital natives, we also embrace technology and leverage it to help solve many environmental problems.

The Covid factor on the environment

As the pandemic struck, businesses closed their doors, people stayed at home, and airports, roads, and cities worldwide fell silent. While the human and economic toll was truly terrible, there were small wins for the environment. Emissions fell, and many cities measured the best air quality they had ever seen.

Was the crisis a catalyst for reducing emissions in the longer term? Many countries are back to pumping out more carbon as they rally their economies. But for many of us, there is no reason to go back to commuting to an office every day. We learned that we could work effectively from home and hold productive meetings without needing to drive our cars or board planes.

As transport accounts for a quarter of emissions, this can only be a good thing. The pandemic also showed us our humanity. We saw that people were willing to make enormous sacrifices to protect one another. This makes me optimistic that we have the resilience and will to tackle climate change.

Who is responsible for sustainability?

Two Colleagues sitting in office at a desk

Who is responsible for environmental sustainability in the workplace? Of course, an organization’s leadership makes the strategic decisions, chooses where to invest, designs business models, and has the most influence over culture and values.

But everyone - from junior workers upwards, can play an essential role by thinking about how their actions might be harming the environment. For example, leaving on the lights and air conditioning in empty rooms, printing documents unnecessarily, or ignoring the recycling facilities. Each action or inaction, while ostensibly insignificant, has a cumulative effect on the environment.

As a Gen Z beginning your career, what else can you do? You could consider the types of industries you would be willing to work for and check their green credentials. Does your potential employer have a genuine passion for protecting the environment, or might they see it as a mere box-ticking exercise? And you could consider becoming a Chief Tomorrow Officer.

Setting the agenda for sustainability   

Organizations can start by putting their environmental goals and commitments front and center. Sustainability should be part of every boardroom’s agenda, each employee’s onboarding program, and forensically reviewed and measured with the same frequency and importance as profit and loss.      

I love that sustainability underpins T-Systems’ corporate culture, from how we operate as a green business to how we help our clients and serve our retail customers.  

Leaders could also invite Gen Z into their boardrooms by appointing a Chief Tomorrow Officer to help them effect change. But while saving our environment means doing things radically differently, small things add up, like:

  • Car sharing and cycle to work schemes
  • Install recycling facilities
  • Label waste bins as ‘landfill’ to make people think twice
  • Implement energy-saving policies – like switching off electronic equipment out of hours
  • Choose green suppliers and simplify supply chains
  • Buy office plants, which boost oxygen levels

And leaders can foster a green culture where everyone is encouraged to voice their ideas. 

Gen Z does not want to choose between a fulfilling professional and personal life or between commercial success and sustainability. We would rather change the world, so all our needs are met.

Nouran Elsherbiny Chief Tomorrow Officer, Deutsche Telekom

A green future? Chief Tomorrow Officers

Since joining T-Systems as a Chief Tomorrow Officer (CTO), I feel privileged, excited, and challenged in equal measure every day. I enjoy exchanging views with my fellow CTOs and debating ideas. One of the biggest revelations was our starkly different perspectives and opinions, even though we belong to the same generation!

We are a diverse team, and I think this diversity makes us richer and helps us make balanced, valuable contributions to T-Systems. Would you like to change the world? Join us and make your voice heard. And if you’re a business leader, download this e-paper to learn how to appoint a Chief Tomorrow Officer.  

About the author
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Angelina Eßer

Former Chief Tomorrow Officer, T-Systems International GmbH

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