'Social purpose' critical for next generation of business leaders

Profits are great, say 750 of tomorrow's leaders, but we want to do good while making a pile.

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 23 May 2016

A new report by Sky has shown that idealism is alive in well in the UK’s future business leaders. When quizzed about their views on social responsibility and green ethics, 70% stated that sustainability was not only an ethical choice but also created new opportunities for business. And 66% don’t think that standards should ever be allowed to slip - not even in a recession.

Of course, these ‘future leaders’ have yet to experience the rough and tumble of a public offering or AGM scrap. They are all MBA students, graduate trainees or, at most, corporate middle managers. A few may find that their sensibilities start to waver when earnings are down and a crowd of investors are baying for blood. But it is heartening to see that the ideal of a triple bottom line – profit, people, planet – has actually taken root.

In the eyes of these bright, young things, a company’s products and services can no longer be separated from its reputation: 69% say that a company’s vision and ethics are actually ‘essential’ in building trust. It’s all one big parcel.

And social purpose must go beyond mere lip service - 86% of these leaders of tomorrow are extremely scathing about the efforts currently being made by corporations to ‘greenwash’ their public image. So, not only are Sky’s focus group wedded to the idea of ethical business, they can also spot a faker a mile off.

So what are the key ethical issues on the table? Well, climate change is a biggie, as is community impact. And today’s businesses aren’t making great strides in either. Only 3% of these future leaders believe that enough is being done by the so-called ‘ethical firms’ of today.

Sky CEO Jeremy Darroch believes these findings represent a real turning of the tide: ‘While sustainability has become part of everyday business language, little has been known until now about the views of future leaders,’ he says. ‘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.’

All of which sounds entirely proper and beyond reproach. It would interesting to know, however, just how sustainable their commitment to sustainability will turn out to be...

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