Disruption: towards 2050

11 March 2024

Disruption: towards 2050

The role of passive, motivated eco-warriors?

Marcus and Emma Doo and Mood Group’s external advisor, John Gilchrist (The Team) met virtually to discuss long term scenarios in the Printing and sustainable Packaging (P&P) sector; this is a summary of the meeting. This is a classic Think Piece, providing a discussion theme for the P&P sector to consider. While Marcus and Emma are focused on their clients and prospects, they have become custodians of the short and long term problems impacting the P&P business activities; the development of Mood Etcetera is a key stage development in supporting the sector. Indeed Emma and Marcus have a separate but equally important reason for discussing the future. Their son, Edward is a Gen Alpha (date born 2010 to 2024). He, with Gen Beta form what we describe as the New Generation.

Scenarios force individuals to examine their perceptions, to stretch their mental models, and to develop a shared view of uncertainty, all of which lead to an increased confidence in decision making.

This short scenario proposes how future generations and their beliefs, attitudes and technology skills could lead to ‘sector disruption’ over a sustained period of time. Further, it questions how the sector and academia are working together to ensure qualifications and skills form an integral part of the P&P sector; and examines and conceptualises the need for all organisations and their employees to strive for an eco-friendly future. The purpose is therefore to get people thinking - to review, agree, disagree, extend, argue …- and if required, amend plans and tactics within the P&P sector and academia. It is a classic think tank scenario approach.

We discussed that the generation gap has been forever discussed. The Millenniums became the first generation to be different because of their exposure to technology. As a generation they were less loyal from a business perspective; they were mobile as was their technologies. Gen Z and Gen Alpha (the New Generation) may be regarded as the generations brought up in a world of rapidly advancing technology and social media as well as global warming and pollution. They will be the early learners in schooling and education in the world of disruptive technologies, artificial intelligence (AI), virtual and augmented reality and robotics; they will be the new generation eco-warriors. These generations will be learning and working in a world of disruption, requiring new working arrangements, contracts and life-styles; they will demand that organisations are sustainable. Disruptive technologies are transforming the workforce, eliminating friction and creating a new way of operating businesses and a new balance between work and private life; these technologies are advancing rapidly, bringing with them increased efficiency, eliminating mundane tasks to allow more creativity. Despite being born into a digitally advanced world, future generations could be the most emotionally-engaged with ‘saving the planet’, and more creative and businesslike than any generation before them. Marcus and Emma commented on the scale of the change and were thankful that this would be an evolution rather than a revolution. That said, they agreed that Mood Group needed to plan ahead for changes in skills profile and experience levels.

Sustainability is a large subject but it has come under the microscope with the concept of the Circular Economy and Net Zero. As such the Think Piece is looking ahead to 2050. Clearly the focus is on a future P&P sector and the skills needed to operate in a radically different organisation, work ethos and the substantial drivers of change; the discussion focused on three trends:

  1. The generation gap with the New Generations ‘damaged’ by Covid 19, Climate Change and potentially information overload.
  2. The New Generations are being brought up in a world of disruptive technologies; they will think, work and act differently.
  3. The New Generations are likely to be more emotionally-engaged with ‘saving the planet’. They will seek out organisations making a significant contribution to sustainability and look to make a substantial contribution.


Disruption - driven by passive, motivated eco-warriors?

Printing and packaging (P&P) spans a plethora of requirements from bulk shipment to the efficient protection and the branding of the smallest products. As a sector, it is growing rapidly, driven by regional markets, retail margin-compression, changing consumer trends, e-commerce, sustainability, advanced materials and technological innovation, including AI and digital printing. These challenges are widely recognised and openly discussed. Indeed, while fragmented at both national and regional levels, the sector benefits from the many regional and national associations which provide key platforms for knowledge exchange. As a result many organisations meet or exceed regulatory measures and international standards.

While issues like global warming and pollution have become news that attracts sympathy, there is a fragmented approach to these challenges as well as a degree of apathy in the general population. The same is not true of young people. Will the New Generations herald in a new thrust and potentially over time, disrupt an efficiently operating sector such as printing and packaging?

So what is sector disruption? It is the action of completely changing the traditional way that an industry or market operates by using new methods, processes or technology.

The New Generations have higher eco-concerns than their predecessors, which affects where they can or will work; it also affects their choice of education and their planned qualification. Temperate winters and violent storms are leading to droughts and flooding on an unprecedented scale, resulting in property damage and destruction and the contamination of water supplies. Rising energy costs have eroded living standards, fuelled the thrust for sustainable energy sources with calls for the demise of fossil fuel use. Are we seeing the rise of a New Generation of ‘passive eco-warriors’ (PEWs)?

A 2018 Deloitte survey found that over 70% of Gen Z respondents aimed to work for organisations whose values aligned with theirs; Gen Alpha will maintain this trend. Social values matter deeply to this population and are much more concerned about environmental protection than older generations. Similarly, the health insurance company Bupa found that 64% of surveyed 18-to-22-year-olds consider it important for employers to act on environmental issues, and 59% would remain longer with responsible employers. In Australia, young workers have left companies that aren’t doing enough to respond to climate change. (BBC report) Gen Alphas may be even more demanding.

Generation Alpha will make up an estimated 6% of the global population, making them a significant force in the workplace. They will begin to enter the workforce in the late 2020s and early 2030s, bringing their tech-savvy skills, entrepreneurial spirit, and drive for inclusiveness and sustainability to the workplace. Generation Alpha are as deeply connected in the on-line world as much as the real one – more so than any other generation – and this is influencing their financial understanding and attitudes towards earning. A study found that artificial intelligence, digital experiences, and sustainability were all key factors in shaping their behaviours.

Over two-thirds (68%) of children throughout Europe have earned money in the last 12 months, with 40% of them using technology to do so. Social media (37%) emerged as the most popular tool for income generation. Over half (59%) of Gen Alpha think that AI, virtual reality and smart assistants will be integral to their future jobs. Children are almost three times as likely to learn about earning money by watching digital content creators than traditional sources such as books (31% v 11%). ‘TikTokers’ and ‘YouTubers’ are leading the way as sources of inspiration, as social media and content creators emerge as most influential factors in stimulating ideas (51%), vs more conventional sources of inspiration such as drawing and writing (36%), reading (33%), and playing with toys (26%). Gen Alpha are powering the shift towards more environmentally conscious earning methods, as nearly a quarter of older children (12-14) are turning to on-line marketplaces (22%) to help them generate income. (Visa Navigate article)

Edward Doo, Emma and Marcus’ son, commented that he believed to New Generations attitude to work is changing and saw P&P companies needing to compete for recruits since many young people would prefer to be self-employed or have part-time or short-term contractual agreements.

The educational trend is increasing interest in values-related work and this is reshaping the educational landscape. Increasing numbers of university students are seeking out environment-related careers, and more and more MBA programmes relate to social impact and the environment.

The New Generations are the ‘passive activists’ who are making their voices heard by working for socially oriented organisations - they want more than just a pay cheque from their employer. In the west, and increasingly the east, they are placing more emphasis on finding jobs that aligns with their personal beliefs, and are less afraid to move on if that alignment changes. They are seeking out careers that combine flexibility and a deep sense of purpose. Demand is surging for these kinds of eco-friendly jobs – making it crucial for employers, careers advisers and educational institutions to regenerate their curricula to be as eco-relevant as possible. These are the ‘passive eco-warriors’ (PEWs) - so what is this New Generation from an employment perspective?.

The New Generation has grown up surrounded by technology. As a result, this digital savvy group will bring innovations and efficiencies to the workplace. This group is likely to bring an entrepreneurial spirit and a drive to create new solutions and approaches to the workplace. The new generation is growing up in a more diverse and inclusive world and will likely bring this perspective to the workplace, valuing the contributions of all team members and seeking to work together to achieve common goals. These individuals are growing up in a world where environmental concerns are a top priority and will bring this perspective to the workplace, advocating for sustainable practices and solutions.

This Generation is poised to bring unique skills and priorities to the workplace. Employers who understand and respond to their needs will be well-positioned to attract and retain this talented and motivated generation. They will be less concerned about ‘wealth’ and prepared to sacrifice the ‘pay-cheque’ for their values and beliefs. Their careers will support these values as will their studies and qualifications. They will seek out eco-friendly, sustainable jobs and work for brands that match their values; they will be prepared to switch should a mismatch occur. Eco-friendly brands will attract and retain staff more-so than brands that don’t. As PEWs progress through the organisation, their contribution will leverage their beliefs and the companies values; the brand will be strengthened. John considered the various government syllabi failed to prepare young people for a more eco-tolerant world; one aligned to their concerns as well as their own values and beliefs. Colleges may also have such shortcomings as may university syllabi. The concern: organisations and academia may suffer a mismatch between the future careers, skills and training and be out of step with New Generation’s values and beliefs.

As the New Generations settle into the employment market, it’s clear that many of them are seeking to contribute to averting an eco-collapse; the jobs market will continuously evolve in reply. Currently there’s a major need for people with the necessary skills to develop new innovative materials, harness new technologies, be knowledgeable in the use of new energy sources and adaptive to evolving environmental regulations; needs that are likely to grow in complexity and subtlety. In particular, there is room for expansion in the areas of supply chain sourcing, big data, AI and blockchain, as they relate to sustainability.

Interestingly greenwashing will attract the attention of the PEWs and they will be fierce advocates of new laws aimed at consumer labelling and protection. The will seek out careers that are based on the Circular Economy. (The circular economy is a system where materials never become waste and nature is regenerated. In a circular economy, products and materials are kept in circulation through processes like maintenance, reuse, refurbishment, re-manufacture, recycling, and composting. The circular economy tackles climate change and other global challenges, like biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution, by decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources.)

There needs to be a paradigm shift in realising that every job needs to be a ‘sustainability job’ at some level.

The P&P sector has moved towards sustainable and green credentials. It may be constantly striving to use innovative and recyclable materials, use sustainable but clean energy resources, while reducing packaging size and waste. They will certainly strive to attract the right employees and skills for their needs. The question: will those jobs be based on sustainability or optimum profit? More importantly - will academia respond, anticipating the future needs of a demanding P&P sector while  responding to the values and beliefs of the New Generation? 

Who takes ownership? Is this the role of Government? Should the various national and regional P&P associations stimulate their members and academia to take action? Will the New Generations follow their minds and hearts?

As mentioned above this is a hypothetical scenario; its sole purpose is to stimulate discussion. This discussion within and organisation at Boards level or in a think tank discussion of several organisations. Indeed, it could be suited to a team formed at the national level. It could be an interesting discussion topic at a regional level, for example the EU, UAE, etc.

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