Opinion

Why should we encourage young people to think sustainably?

5 min read

15 February 2016

Sustainability is not a new concept; from the tax on plastic bags and green businesses to zero waste restaurants and homes, we are all aware of the fragility of our planet’s resources. But why is it important that youngsters are aware of sustainable business concepts though?

Increasingly, sustainability and business go hand in hand, as larger corporations are being challenged to develop policies and practices that don’t endanger the planet and its communities. 

Being a sustainable business is about more than adopting green, environmentally friendly practices such as encouraging staff to recycle or switching the office heating and lights off overnight.

Sustainability in business involves a long-term commitment and strategic approach that marries up business growth with positive environmental and societal continuity. 

As part of this, companies are expected to manage their financial, social and environmental risks, obligations and opportunities. A sustainable business should encourage staff to consider how their organisation can make a long term positive impact on the local and global environment. 

From commitment to the eradication of slave labour and improving factory conditions in the developing world to tackling climate change, the role of businesses in safeguarding our future should not be underestimated.

It is incredibly important to get young people, the next generation of employees, employers and entrepreneurs, behind sustainability missions.
In the internet age it’s impossible for young people to ignore global inequalities, falling wages and increasing social tension in the world around them. We shouldn’t just be presenting problems to them, however; we need to educate young people about how to address these serious issues.

One of the ways we can help young people discover solutions is by encouraging them to start thinking about real life problems and answers while they’re still in education.

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Getting young people behind sustainability goals

Enterprise education programmes that provide young people with a real, tangible experience of what it’s like to run a business are a good way to get young people thinking about sustainability and the idea of making a positive social impact.

This year, environmental sustainability has been a major commitment for Young Enterprise, as well as our member schools, academies and universities. One of our key overarching policy priorities is to foster engagement from all in the community – encouraging involvement with local and national teaching staff and employers – when helping young people to develop skills for the future.

It is widely recognised that the younger generation has an innate ability to think creatively and outside of the box when solving problems. We see this in Young Enterprise’s Fiver and Tenner Challenges, which invite primary and secondary students respectively to take a pledge from us and make a profit, thinking about the needs of their local community along the way.

Business ideas from Young Enterprise students have ranged from cake sales and car washes to potting baby fir trees and selling reusable, eco-friendly Christmas trees or packaging seeds to encourage children to grow their own vegetables, and we are inspired to see the enthusiasm for sustainability among many of these projects.

The sustainability mission is actively promoted by us too, with students taking part in the Tenner Challenge being actively encouraged to reuse materials and make their startup capital go further, taking inspiration from items in their own homes or around their local community that are no longer in use.

This inspires young people to consider their role in the community and think sustainably when it comes to making a profit – excellent grounding for a sustainable future.

This younger generation is hungry; not just for change but for sustainable change. As well as wanting to take ownership of their own futures, they understand that development must benefit generations to come.

We all have a stake in tackling these issues successfully, so let’s help the next generation get started now.

On the topic of the UK’s youngsters, a study revealed the top eight business idols as decided by the nation’s students – reality TV star Kim Kardashian came out higher on the list than the likes of West Ham CEO Karren Brady and Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Michael Mercieca is the chief executive at charity for development of youngsters’ business skills Young Enterprise