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The Student Climate Change Protests Point to the Challenges Engaging the Future Workforce

johnhowell headshotWords by John Howell
Brands Taking Stands
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The Youth Strike 4 Climate’s global protest on March 15 by an estimated one million students demonstrating against inaction on climate change marks a new generation gap issue. A larger share of youth in 26 countries are concerned about climate change compared to people over 50, according to a Pew survey.

Who are these young people? They are the workforce of the future, as well as the customers and clients of companies from which they are demanding action.

At a recent CEO Forum organized by Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose CECP, 60 CEOs cited “prepare for the future of work” as their number one concern. Today, 30 percent of the workforce is millennial; by 2025, 75 percent will be of that generation. In that cohort, 76 percent consider a company’s social and environmental commitments before deciding to work for them, according to a PwC report.

This workforce will soon be joined by the oldest segment of the Youth Strike 4 Climate group, those who are now in their early twenties. Companies will need to step up their commitments and their reporting on sustainability initiatives to attract and retain the best talent among these future workers. Newer and younger employees will expect a company’s mission to include mitigating climate change as part of its core purpose.

Case Study: Dick’s Sporting Goods

Barriers that have held businesses back from acting on gun control continue to be broken down by Dick’s Sporting Goods. As covered by TriplePundit, the company is removing guns from 125 of its 729 stores, following last fall’s 10-store trial in which hunting products were replaced by sporting goods and apparel. That test produced better margins and higher sales, CEO Ed Stack told Bloomberg.

Early last year, after the Parkland School shooting, Stack said, “We needed to make a statement about what was going on in this industry." The company then banned sales of assault weapons and raised the age limit for gun sales to 21.

Dick’s stand was a factor in slower 2018 sales (down two percent) although the company’s gross profit margin remained the same and earnings per share actually rose. Analysts noted that being a national retailer and a go-to brand name has made Dick’s profitable over the past decade, with a return on equity averaging 12.3 percent. Shares of Dick's are up 19 percent since the company made the decision to stop selling guns, easily outpacing the S&P 500 Index and retail sector averages over the same period, according to Seeking Alpha. Also noted was a 12 percent decline in national firearms sales for 2018.

Stack says Dick’s is not backing down from its stand. “If we had a mulligan, we’d do it all over again,” he told CNBC.

Last month, Stack was one of four CEOs to sign a letter supporting a universal gun control bill that passed in the House. (The others: Chip Bergh, Levi’s; Scott Rechler, RXR Realty; and Blake Mycoskie, TOMS.) Stack recently joined the business council of Everytown, a nonprofit that advocates for gun control, reports Bloomberg.

Previously published in the weekly Brands Taking Stands newsletter - be sure to subscribe!

Image credit: Intothewoods7/Wiki Commons

John Howell headshotJohn Howell

John Howell, Chief of Thought Leadership and Editorial Director, is a co-founder of 3BL Media, the parent company of Triple Pundit, begun in 2009. Howell oversees original editorial content procurement and creation. He is also the author of the weekly Brands Taking Stands Newsletter. He has written and edited for Elle, Artforum, High Times, the New York Times Magazine, and the LA Times. Howell is based in Wonalancet, NH.

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