Baby Boomers came of age at a time when the relationships between the environment and human activity were reconsidered in powerful ways. They are the first green generation — the pioneers.
They awakened us to the importance of preserving the environment. Born between 1946 and 1964 and 76.4 million strong, Boomers planted the seeds of the modern day green movement as the idealistic “flower children” of the 1960s.
Fifty years later, as they prepare to exit the workforce, they are anxious and willing to leave a lasting legacy if only their companies will tap into their experience, sense of social conscientiousness and love of the environment. They can be powerful levers of change and assume roles of leadership in their organization’s sustainability initiatives.
Look at what Boomers have already achieved. They helped to organize and then gathered to celebrate the first Earth Day, in 1970, followed by the first Solar Day in 1971.
Their peaceful demonstrations of concern gave rise to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the founding of the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, the Clean Air act in 1970 and the Clean Water Act in 1972, and the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
Their environmental issues were visible and tangible, with air and water pollution, and they instituted rapid progress towards environmental goals with measurable results.
So who are these Boomers who have grown up in an era of increasing climate change?
Profile of a Boomer
The first Boomers, born right after World War II, grew up with a picture perfect family: mom, dad, a few brothers and sisters, a dog and grandparents who lived in the ‘country.’ Thanks to a G.I. Bill that subsidized low-cost mortgages for returning soldiers, it was often cheaper to buy a house in the suburbs than to rent an apartment in the city.
These houses had informal family rooms, open floor plans and backyards in subdivisions that had quirky little names like The Rabbit Hutch or Lyon Estates.
Boomers were full of confidence that their lives could be better than their parents. They believed they had a right to a college education and believed in American ideals.
Consumer goods companies helped this along by catering to the biggest generation the country had seen – developing ready-to-go baby food (Gerber), inventing a variety of toys and creating TV shows like the Little Rascals and the Lone Ranger.
Boomers were raised with the idea if you worked hard you got what you wanted. They worked their way up the ladder at their companies, believing the harder you worked the more you were rewarded. Boomers were our first workaholics.
They Expected a Better World
As a group, they were the wealthiest, most active, and most physically fit generation up to that time, and among the first to grow up genuinely expecting the world to improve with time.
This generation was the first to engage in peaceful civic disobedience to rally for peace, equal rights, civil rights, women rights and environmental concerns.
The deaths of President Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King; the Vietnam War; and Watergate defined their political coming of age. The Summer of Love and Woodstock defined their social coming of age.
Many Boomers, due to the recent economic crisis, are delaying retirement. Some claim they will never retire, as they believe work defines who they are.
Boomers believe in large causes and are convinced they can change the world. They are open to new ideas.Sustainability leaders need to leverage these experienced Boomers before they exit the workforce.
They are skilled in organizing large groups of people around a mission, and then creating a strategic plan to make it happen. They aren’t afraid of hard work and are tireless in pursuit of their goals. They are unique in their ability to balance profit and prosperity motive with a social one.
Many have achieved senior positions in their organizations, so they have the clout to make change happen.
Boomers are born leaders, idealistic and love to win – mainly because everything they tried to achieve, they did!
You can engage Boomers by appealing to their need to leave a legacy for future generations. Sustainability initiatives and programs align to their social values.
Many are looking for ‘encore’ career opportunities, but want to do something great for a second curtain call. Leadership roles within sustainability initiatives may be a perfect fit.
They know how ‘things work around here’ and get done. They can accelerate your progress in sustainability while building new leaders.
Engage them in rallying multiple stakeholders to achieve large organizational goals. Use their idealism to drive change. Their enthusiasm and energy will help to rally others around sustainability to achieve measurable results that benefit your company and the planet.
Julie Honeywell is Vice President of Talent Management at Paladino and Company.