Young workers prefer green policies over green salaries

By Upstateherd (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Kana Ruhalter

Boston University Statehouse Program

Despite a labor shortage that has companies desperately looking to hire and an economy wreaking havoc on bank accounts, young people are increasingly hesitant or outright against working for a firm that does not have climate-friendly policies. 

The culture shift from prior generations’ attitudes shows that Gen Z and younger millennials are factoring in more than just wealth when making life decisions. 

Earlier this month, the Boston Foundation held a virtual forum to analyze the Inaugural Boston Climate Progress Report conducted by Northeastern University researchers. They found that Boston is on the path to failure to achieve its key climate goal: net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. 

Chris Cook, executive director of the Rose Kennedy Greenway, said that the onus should not just be on individual action – large corporations should also carry their weight.

“I think it’s something you need to be accountable for, just like you have to be accountable for racial justice,” said Cook, who was formerly Boston’s chief of environment, energy and open space. “So as a business model, it’s practical.” 

Polls show Gen Z and millennials are overwhelmingly more concerned about climate change than generations past. Some companies recognize this and are prioritizing incorporating sustainability into their mission statements to attract young professionals.

Richard Locke, a founder of MIT Sloan’s Laboratory for Sustainable Business, says antiquated views about sustainability are changing and becoming more mainstream. Big corporations can capitalize on that and implement – or at least, appear to implement – green initiatives.

So many of those people think of sustainability as just something that’s going to be bad for business, as opposed to thinking that it can be an opportunity for business,” said Locke. “Which I’m convinced it is.”

Millennial Maggie Phelan, treasurer of the Cape Cod Climate Change Collaborative, says she is one of the young people who turned down a job offer with a bigger salary to work at an institution that fits her ethics and values.

“I’m not a crazy person – I did consider it,” said Phelan, who also works at the Collaborative’s annual Net Zero Conference. “It’s hard when you have a family and someone dangles that carrot. But at the end of the day, I wouldn’t have been happy with a company that wasn’t based in and dedicated to serving my community.” 

Phelan works as a banker at Cape Cod 5, which was ranked ninth in the American Banker’s Best Banks to Work For. She says the firm’s products and services give its customers and employees the opportunity to be climate-conscious and is working towards becoming carbon neutral.

“Our employee benefits allow us to be more environmentally conscious, including reimbursements for electric and hybrid vehicles, a LEED Gold Certified headquarters with onsite amenities, EV charges and paid time off for volunteering with community organizations of our choosing,” Phelan said. “I think the key is that environmental stewardship is a lens with which we look at everything we do.”

The opportunity to have career choices is pushing young professionals to follow their hearts without risking financial ruin. 

Northeastern University graduate student Marcus Bogan, 25, believes that his generation–Gen Z–has vastly different values than preceding generations.

“We value quality of life over one in which we work excessively,” he said. “The ‘live to work’ mentality drives older generations to forego their values in order to make money, whereas we’ve begun dismantling the mindset in favor of values that contribute to sustainable living and longevity.” 

This article first appeared in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

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