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Environmental Neglect: Who’s Responsible Anyway?

By Clare Coughlan, Telefonica UK

Recent Millennial Survey shows neither Governments nor individuals taking responsibility for leading environmental change. Is there a third option?

Everyone has a responsibility to leave the planet in a better state than when they found it (or at least not to leave it any worse). But the reality is that as individuals, we can’t see the impact we’re making, and we probably don’t trust anyone else to do the same.

You might, for example, make every effort in recycling your rubbish once a week but when you see next door neglecting their environmental duties, you find yourself asking why bother? And it’s not like we make a conscious effort in trading in our fuel hungry cars for the latest eco model (or hop on public transport instead). We convince ourselves then that we neither have the money or the time to behave sustainably and like a game of organically grown hot potatoes, pass the buck.

Maybe it’s not the responsibility of the individual but of the Government instead? The recent Global Millennial Survey that Telefonica conducted asked Millennials from across the planet whether they thought Government or individuals had the greater responsibility for leading environmental change. 56% opted for Government, 44% for individuals. So there was no run-away winner. But maybe that’s because we didn’t offer a third option. What about global businesses?

Whereas Governments often have short-term electoral objectives, high debts and a broad range of other equally important objectives, global businesses are often cash rich, plan long(er) term and have a lot of man hours at their disposal. But we can’t expect businesses to care out of the kindnesses of their hearts. It’s unfortunate, and a challenge, but it’s the reality. Businesses answer to shareholders and shareholders are after profits. So how do we make CSR pay? Olly Thomas at One Young World in Zurich, 2011 put it in a far simpler and more compelling way than I could so have a three-minute listen here (just watch 51:58 minutes through to 54:44).

It’s a great example and the movement from “corporate philanthropy” to “mutually beneficial business” is a no brainer.

So if we make sure we champion the business benefit of any social project, we’ll always win. And the more intrinsically linked the environmental programme is to the business’s core market – the closer the returns are. And you know exactly where those returns are going to go once the business starts to see them come in – back into more social projects of course. It might feel a bit uncomfortable for people who’ve always believed in the cause to have to start talking about return on investment, but if the end result’s the same, then it doesn’t matter how we get there. It only matters that we do.

For more Millennial insights, visit Survey.Telefonica.com and interact on Twitter via #TefMillennials. You can also follow Telefonica’s Millennial Leaders attending One Young World via #TelefonicaOYW