The Next Generation of Responsible Business Leaders

The Next Generation of Responsible Business Leaders

Recently, I hosted a group of graduate students from Syracuse University’s Maxwell School.  I also spoke to a group of undergraduates at George Mason University.  I was struck by the questions they asked me and their responses to the questions I asked of them.  They wanted to know about the linkages between ethics and business performance; they asked about the risk management dimensions of social and environmental responsibility; and they hold crystal clear points of view on corporate reputation, respect for customers, and the value and impact of strategic philanthropy and employee volunteering.

These interactions reminded me of the numerous survey findings suggesting that young people prefer to work for companies that are socially and environmentally responsible.


§  Research recently conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that 88% of millennials say they will choose to work for companies whose corporate social responsibility values reflect their own. 

§  A survey by Kelly Services found that nearly 90% of respondents say they are more likely to work for a company that is ethically and socially responsible and 80% are more likely to work for a company that is environmentally responsible.  The same survey found that 46% of Generation Y, 48% of Generation X and 53% of Baby Boomers would be willing to forego pay or promotion to work for an organization with a good reputation.

§  A poll found that 80% of young professionals are interested in jobs that have a positive impact on the environment, and 92% are more inclined to work for an environmentally friendly company.

§  A poll by BT found that a third of those surveyed felt that working for a caring and responsible company was more important than the salary they earned, and 44% said they would discount an employer that did not have a good reputation in terms of social responsibility.

§  Clearly, to land top talent, HR execs should pay heed to all this.  And it doesn’t seem to change once employees are onboard.  A survey by the St. James Ethics Center found that 77% of employees would leave a company if it acted in a way that contradicted their core principles.  The PwC study of millennials found that 86% would consider leaving a company if its CSR values no longer matched their expectations.


In some ways, it’s not surprising that young people have an interest in social and environmental responsibility – after all, they’ve grown up in an age when service-learning is an increasingly common concept in schools.  And they’ve been bombarded (in a good way) with eco-consciousness courtesy of Earth Day, Al Gore, and the green marketing prowess of Madison Avenue.

But is this ethos of responsibility sustained as these young people grow up?  Does the spirit of sustainability stick with them as they enter the workforce and deal with the real-world pressures that come with families and mortgages?  I would like to think so, but I haven’t seen any longitudinal studies that have attempted to test this.  If it is sustained, why?  And how can we apply those learnings to other populations?  If it isn’t, what can we do to recapture and then perpetuate that sensibility as young people grow into adults?  I am hopeful that enlightened sociologists and social psychologists may soon explore the answers to these questions.  Until then, we should find new ways to tap into and harness this interest and optimism.

Incidentally, next week, in conjunction with my company’s volunteer efforts around the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, I’ll be speaking to a group of first graders.  I can’t wait to hear what they have to say!



Treat the Earth well.  It was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. 


Native American Proverb


Chad Tragakis, Senior Vice President, Hill & Knowlton, Washington D.C, and writer for the Hill & Knowlton Blog, ResponsAbility.