If you want to get a sense of what matters to students, you don’t have to go far — just to earlier this month, in fact. On March 15, more than 1.4 million children in 2,233 cities around the world walked out of schools in a joint protest demanding government action on climate change. The issue of global warming may still have some naysayers among adults who distrust or dismiss scientific data, but the youngest members of society have no doubts about climate change. “The climate catastrophe is a life-and-death situation for our generation,” Elijah King, a high-school senior in Milwaukee who participated in the strike, said. Max Buenviaje-Boyd, a senior in San Francisco, summed up his generation’s feelings in an interview with WIRED. “When it comes to climate issues, we will have to do this by ourselves,” he said. “This is our future.”
Forget skipping class to cause trouble. Generation Z is skipping class to make a difference.
And while the generation ahead of them, Millennials, may have already graduated high school, they abide by similar values when choosing employers. According to a 2016 Millennial Employee Engagement Study conducted by Cone Communications, 76 percent of Millennials consider a company’s social and environmental commitments when deciding where to work, and 64 percent of them won’t take a job if a potential employer doesn’t have corporate social responsibility practices in place.
The events industry needs to recognize the elevated role that sustainability plays in the ability to connect with an emerging generation of prospective attendees. Event organizers spend plenty of time thinking about how to use technology to connect with this digital-savvy audience and how to craft the right messages to capture their attention and registration dollars, but it appears that environmentalism is taking a backseat in the marketing and planning process. According to Convene’s Annual Meetings Market Survey, only 11 percent of respondents indicated that sustainability clauses are included in their RFPs. And when it comes to the on-site experience, 41 percent of association planners indicated that sustainability is not part of their event design.
If Millennials pick places to work based on sustainability, it stands to reason that it will also factor in their decisions about whether they want to spend three days sitting in a ballroom or browsing a trade-show floor. On top of that, the March 15 student walkout just reinforces the need for event organizers to align their priorities with their future audiences.
David McMillin is an associate editor at Convene.