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Jon Kennard


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Insight: New study reveals ‘sustainable generation’ of future business leaders


As businesses continue to feel the pinch from tough economic conditions, the next generation of business leaders says that sustainability must be a priority and sets out its plans for a more sustainable future.
Published today, ‘The Sustainable Generation: The Sky Future Leaders Study’ examines for the first timethe attitudes and ambitions towards sustainability of 750 corporate graduate trainees, high potential middle-managers and MBA students. It uncovers a group who readily describe themselves as the first ‘sustainable generation’ and who have a clear vision for their own careers. But it also sends a warning that UK businesses aren’t matching their warm words with concrete actions.

The sustainable generation

Having grown up with issues like environmental protection and social responsibility as a constant feature in their lives, tomorrow’s business leaders are knowledgeable about sustainability and confident in what they will do in the future to address it.
They also send a clear message to HR directors about the importance of sustainability credentials to their own career plans. 34% of respondents see creating social and environmental value as an overall career goal, just 1 percentage point behind earning personal financial rewards.

Sustainability makes business sense

The sustainable generation is clear that there is a strong business case for addressing social and environmental issues. 70% agree that sustainability can create new opportunities for business, while 66% believe difficult economic conditions should not be an excuse for businesses to ignore sustainability.

Business performance today

But sustainability is still not being fully integrated into the way the businesses operate. While 78% of future leaders believe that UK businesses are making a genuine effort to do so, just 3% believe they are fully succeeding.
The clear gap between words and actions is underlined by future leaders’ responses to businesses that claim to have a social purpose beyond creating profit to improve their reputation. Just 27% of tomorrow’s business leaders think companies make such claims because they genuinely believe them to be true.

Ready and able to lead

The report raises questions as to the quality and quantity of sustainability training provided by business schools and businesses. 35% of future leaders do not believe their employers are providing adequate levels of training or education on sustainability.

A more sustainable future

The sustainable generation outlines a five-point plan to go further than their predecessors in integrating sustainability when at the helm of the UK’s businesses. It is:
  • Increasing employee engagement to harness the workforce creativity
  • Collaborating across industry to share best practice
  • Taking more responsibility for supply chain sustainability credentials
  • Integrating sustainability into values and decisions
  • Using new technology to improve business performance on sustainability
Jeremy Darroch, Sky Chief Executive, launched the study and said:
“While sustainability has become part of everyday business language, little has been known until now about the views of future leaders. This study shows that tomorrow’s business leaders are already engaged with sustainability and see it as an important part of their future careers. In their own words, this is ‘the sustainable generation’ and there is much we can all learn from them.
The report contains important lessons about the expectations that future leaders will have of the companies where they choose to work. All businesses have a strong incentive to provide better training, to tap into the ideas and creativity of their people and to ensure their actions on sustainability live up to their words.
Much of today’s report will resonate with businesses which have already recognised the opportunity that sustainability can bring. For example, we don’t believe we have to choose between acting responsibly and being a successful commercial business. Because our future success is based on long-term relationships with customers, we’re committed to doing the right thing and making a positive contribution to life in the UK.”

Author Profile Picture
Jon Kennard

Freelance writer

Read more from Jon Kennard

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