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While we all share the role of women and men in business, there are other titles we have in common, independently. Many of us are also parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, mentors, and friends. We all interact with children or young people at some point, at some level in our professional or personal lives. We see firsthand how the next generation thinks and experiences the world as we have worked hard to build it.
In our professional spaces, we are fortunate enough to be aware of the need for sustainability and passionate about the opportunities to pursue it. Now it’s time to look at ways to combine our future’s prospects with our current efforts. Consider a mentorship offered by your company that invites bright minds to learn the tenets of business while gaining insight into the integral role that sustainability plays in each of those pillars.
Conveying the Notion of Sustainability
Times are changing in new and exciting ways. Green businesses are celebrated and sought after. Sustainability and efficiency are well-known value words. Celebrities and big brands are supporting sustainability-driven communication campaigns. Transparency in business is encouraged along with the practices to back them up. There are actually Green MBAs that can be earned to focus entrepreneurial pursuits on sustainable and social issues.
But the momentum must keep on going. A recent study by Pew Research found that only 32% of Millennials are likely to describe themselves as environmentalists—the last generation’s term for the sustainably-minded. And while this is likely a rejection of the label rather than the actual sentiment, given that they are overall more supportive of stricter environmental laws than their predecessors, it is a warning sign of what can happen if we allow our current efforts to become dated, applicable only to us and not belonging to the visions of future entrepreneurs. Instead, we must be proactive about passing on the green baton.
If your company has been one of the proud frontrunners of sustainability in business, then you have the responsibility and opportunity to make sure that these values are passed on to the next generation of leaders. Your company is a unique space, and one that can have a powerful impact on ensuring that our budding businesspeople are instilled with the importance of sustainability and the ways in which it relates to the day-to-day practices of whatever industry you are in.
STEM programs everywhere are encouraging young men and women to consider science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in their careers, in an interdisciplinary and applied approach. I think there are similar opportunities to encourage students and beginning businesspeople to pursue their area of interest in the professional world, and to show them how to bring along their passions for environmental sustainability at the same time.
The National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) has developed a program called EnvironMentors, which enlists environmental, science, and natural resource professionals, faculty, and college students to volunteer to mentor high school students. Although this exists primarily in the academic space, it is one model for how to transfer knowledge from experienced professionals to interested up-and-comers.
How can you help our next decision-makers to have an impact? How can they get involved in clean tech for the future?
Key Components of a Successful Sustainability Mentoring Program
When developing your own sustainability mentoring program, you can integrate all the best of your business acumen (without giving away the recipe to your secret sauce, of course) while instilling how important the role of sustainability is in your operations and mission. Whatever industry you’re in, you have already discovered some of the ways that being serious about sustainability has mattered to your goals and objectives.
From the beginning, it is crucial that employees be given a full introduction to the opportunity of the program, as well as all the participation that will be required should they decide to be involved. Explain what is at stake with the program, and how even non-participants can contribute to its success. Once the mentor and mentees are connected, they must understand the level of communication that is expected of them during this endeavor, particularly the regular meetings that are a must.
In order for them to be truly comfortable sharing at a level that is effective, the relationship of the mentor-mentee must be based on trust. Understand that this may take time to build if the two start out as strangers, and be ready to give them added opportunities to bond. It is an important part of the process, and crucial that they be able to believe in the confidentiality of their communication and stay committed to making it work.
As with any project, without clear objectives and pre-determined goals that you hope to achieve with your program, you won’t really have a measurable way to ascertain if it is succeeding or not. Perhaps the feedback you get is positive, and the mentor-mentee relationship had an impact on one or both of the participants. While that is a great result, you started this mentorship program for a reason. Hone into those motivations from the beginning and focus on those themes with your participants as you go.
We can use our position as business leaders to promote the notion of sustainability. Of environmentalism. Of environmentally-friendly business practices. Of being conservationists. Of preserving our natural resources. Beyond the terminology is a very real importance of taking care of our Earth’s resources while we have them. We know the importance of this. Do our young people? How can we help them to learn?
Need help establishing your own mentorship program? Please, reach out for help highlighting your sustainable practices and conveying them through mentorship.
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