(April 2020) – I spend a great deal of time with different generations professionally and personally. The question I find myself asking often is: How do we bridge the gaps among different generations when it comes to sustainability? Someone of my generation, baby boomer, usually does not think twice about walking into a meeting room with a plastic water bottle that you discard after you finish drinking. I still see plastic water bottles at meetings or conferences. The water bottle is just one example of how differently we believe and act within the five generations that share our workplaces and communities today.
I don’t know whether it’s because some of the generations believe we live in “the land of plenty” and that the world will turn as usual no matter what humans do. This concept applies to fuel consumption, thermostat control, water use and so many other factors. When they were growing up, there were few processes in place to take care of our wonderful planet.
Today you see efforts and programs to protect the environment and keep communities much more ecofriendly for generations to come. The question is: How can the generations work together to move at a much quicker pace, with all focused toward a common goal of making the world a much better place to cohabitate?
I’d like to share some suggestions to bridge this gap with your employees and communities of different ages working together:
- Bring the team together. The start of this process could be a little discombobulated in the beginning. But all issues need to be put on the table, and there needs to be a strong coordinator to take notes and keep all groups focused on the facts rather than opinions. When issues are discussed, try to have the group come up with action plans collectivity. The key is to hold the meetings and to temper emotions by sticking with the facts.
- Enlist guest speakers. Bring in an external group or individual to lead one of the meetings. There are many groups out there, and some don’t charge for the interaction. Universities are also a great resource. Some of the universities expect students to work within an organization as a credit requirement. If you do get the opportunity to bring in an outside speaker or moderator to meet with your group, make sure the objectives are crystal-clear on what outcomes you would like to achieve.
- Discuss sustainability as a mission. Many organizations and community agencies today have a value statement or mission statement that identifies sustainability as a core part of their company’s values. This should be shared with all employees, and updates on the organization’s efforts should be provided at least once a month to show progress. The mission and progress can be presented on your organization’s website or in blogs or company newsletters. The communication piece needs to be delivered in a consistent time and place each month. Also, if there is the capacity to create an annual report to share with employees and clients, that is such a bonus for all.
- Establish a sustainability committee. This should be done after your first several meetings, and the committee should be co-chaired by the employees from the first several working sessions. Have an agenda created by the co-chairs, and the group should meet once a month. There should be inputs and outputs from each meeting. To get this committee up and running fluidly usually takes about six months. You know it’s a success when more employees want to be a part of the group. The committee process is my favorite because it is employee-led.
- Lead by example. I was one of the baby boomers who would walk into a meeting with a plastic bottle of water. And did I get looks —rightly so! I made a New Year’s resolution this year to give up the plastic bottles. I got on the internet and found a company called UncommonGoods and purchased a Flavor Infuser Water Bottle. I even bought two extras for Christmas gifts, and they were well received. I feel so proud to walk into a meeting with my new hydration glass that holds cucumbers, citrus or strawberries. It now is a conversation piece.
We have had a sustainability committee at my company for three years. Besides a kinder, gentler, safer and more collaborative environment that has been created, there is much more respect across the generations. It was not an easy journey at first, but now I look back with arms crossed and have the biggest smile. Yes!