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How Businesses can Step Up for the Green Generation

Climate change is already having visible and devastating effects on the world. Deadly floods, record-breaking heatwaves and other extreme weather events have been plaguing countries worldwide, and are expected to increase in coming years. Faced with inheriting a world in climate chaos, the global youth are becoming increasingly involved in efforts to mitigate climate change.   

As discussed during Energy Watch’s recent interview with Tenaga Belia, far from being discouraged by the inherent complexity and technical nature of energy concepts and policies, youth are instead creating spaces for themselves and their peers to educate themselves on climate issues and mobilise their collective resources to participate in the fight against climate change. In a recent report released by Accenture in April 2022, research has shown that today’s youth have high aspirations to work in the green economy and contribute to solving the world’s environmental challenges. For companies looking to attract motivated young minds to future-proof their businesses, the work needs to start now. 

The Youth are hungry for Change  

Envisioning and building a better future is a popular aspiration for many young people across the world. While good pay, stability and job opportunities will always play a role in career decisions, it seems that young people are increasingly drawn to companies that prioritise sustainable practices, seeking to help their regions transition to cleaner transportation and decarbonise.

Envisioning and building a better future is a popular aspiration for many young people across the world.

In the Accenture survey, which involved 29,500 youth between the ages of 15 and 39 from 18 countries, more than 50% of the respondents in Europe and the United States indicated their aspirations to work in the green economy over the next 10 years. Of this percentage, up to 44% believe they could secure a green job in the next five years instead of ten. For youth in the Asia Pacific, as opposed to their European and US counterparts, a whopping 77% want to work in the green economy within the next ten years, and more than half believe that they can accomplish this goal in half that time. For companies, this will be a challenging new landscape to navigate, but one that has immense potential to benefit their business.  

As companies are increasingly aligning their operations with the green economy and making public commitments to sustainability, these figures suggest that it will be easier to move more rapidly toward environmentally sustainable business outcomes. On the other hand, the challenge now is executing these commitments – a task that requires attracting new talent. This means businesses need to start designing jobs now to attract the right young minds with the skills and motivation to drive this transition.  

 How Leaders Can Step Up 

Transforming an entire business to sustainable operations and processes is no easy task. Taking charge in the new status quo and driving real, widespread change will require a high degree of determination from business leaders. In fact, the sectors that will likely create the greatest number of green jobs are the ones that have contributed heavily to the current climate problem and that youth perceive unfavourably, such as the energy, manufacturing and building sector. In APAC, it was shown that young people shy away most from industries that they perceive as having a high adverse impact on the environment. In the face of this challenge, a few core changes can be made by leaders to set businesses on the right path.  

First, businesses need to show genuine commitment to a green economy transition. Young people are highly perceptive of superficial attempts at sustainability, popularly referred to as ‘greenwashing’. Conversely, youth are drawn towards companies that implement green initiatives that are genuine and truly transformational. To tap on this, companies should first create new sustainable businesses that are decoupled from legacy operations, and second, build internal capabilities for sustainability, such as introducing sustainability KPIs. 

At the same time, delivering solutions to today’s sustainability challenges requires fresh, innovative thinking. Diverse expertise and mindsets will need to be combined to discover and build these solutions faster. To this end, companies will not only need to attract a wide variety of talent to execute this, but also give them a certain amount of creative freedom to explore their out-of-the-box ideas in depth. To accomplish this, companies will need to deliberately design “green collar” jobs specifically to attract innovative minds who have the ability to create the unique solutions the green transition demands. 

Lastly, there needs to be a concentrated effort to make people from all backgrounds and skills a part of the green transition. Of the millions of jobs the green economy is expected to create, many are expected to be entry-level roles that require vocational qualifications instead of advanced degrees. Fortunately, the youth surveyed, especially youth in APAC, indicated their willingness to receive specialised training or reskill and upskill themselves where needed. This is a key opportunity for companies serious about the green transition. To create a sure flow of skilled, capable workers, companies should: 

  • Invest in training and certification programs for incoming employees, and establish upskilling and specialisation opportunities for existing employees 
  • Establish entry-level employment opportunities through partnerships with academic and vocational institutions, and; 
  • Create exchange and rotation programs for young employees between legacy and new business lines 

Among the Malaysian corporates, national utility provider Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) has set a good example in taking proactive measures through the creation of its New Energy Division aimed at spurring its Renewable Energy portfolio. The company has also highlighted energy efficiency, renewable energy and electric vehicles as priority areas in its reskilling programme which are designed to meet the needs of today’s power sector. As of July 2022, TNB has successfully upskilled 7,424 talents who have secured employment in the local green workforce, future-proofing Malaysia’s electricity industry.  

Placing Green Economy on the Agenda  

With more emphasis than ever being placed on creating a green future, companies need to ensure their highest management and C-suite are prioritising green agendas for their business. Promises and pledges will only go so far with today’s discerning youth – real change can only happen if leaders ensure their companies are on track to meet these expectations. To ensure their place in the green economy, there are a few key elements leaders must consider.  

With a concrete sustainability plan, leaders can at once future-proof their businesses and attract the best minds the next generation has to offer.

While initial steps such as appointing a Sustainability Officer in top management is a good start, only concrete efforts towards sustainability will stand the test of time. First, top management must ensure the company’s actions do not run the risk of greenwashing.  

On top of this, companies must establish ways to tangibly measure non-financial sustainability performance in Environmental, Social and Governance dimensions. Signaling commitment to sustainable change and the green economy is a starting point, but businesses must be sure to adhere to these commitments by holding themselves up against high standards and performance indexes. In Malaysia, this can be seen in TNB’s recent announcement of its aggressive and concrete plan that points itself towards achieving their green goals.   

Lastly, leaders of today must look beyond talent diversity targets. It has long been clear that attracting talent from diverse backgrounds is crucial to ensuring businesses flourish sustainably over the long-term. Before, leaders established diversity targets to avoid the pitfalls of too many similar minds – after all, diversity enhances creativity. Yet, these targets are fast becoming objects of the past – inclusion and a diverse workforce are now a baseline expectation in any business. Today, leaders need to consider new job-related targets. Most importantly, businesses must develop a plan to create the green collar jobs needed to attract young minds, and ensure existing talent can succeed and propel the business forward in the green economy of the future 

Leading from the Frontier of Green Economy 

In the 12th Malaysia Plan, the Malaysian government has outlined the nation’s commitment to a green transition. Over the next few years, the country will take steps to address issues faced by energy consumers, respond to global energy trends, and explore sustainable energy sources to hit our low-carbon targets and become carbon neutral by as early as 2050.  

For leaders, acting now to transition to sustainable operations can not only cut costs, improve efficiency, and create a healthier workplace, but also signals a brand’s commitment to creating a better future – a positive indicator for consumers as well as talented young minds in the workforce. With a concrete sustainability plan, leaders can at once future-proof their businesses and attract the best minds the next generation has to offer – and with a turbulent, fast-paced landscape ahead, the ever adaptable youth will be invaluable in responding to unexpected challenges a business may face.  

As it stands, it seems that aligning a company’s operations with the country’s green agenda will no longer be an idealistic alternative to business-as-usual, but necessary for the business to truly flourish in the years to come. This is especially important with the release of Malaysia’s National Energy Policy 2022-2024 on 19 September which calls on private and public players to take part in the transition and work towards balancing the energy trilemma.  

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