Across the world, leaders are increasingly taking responsibility for intergenerational fairness. This is true in the public, private and non-profit sectors. The difficult questions of how to make decisions that are fair for our futures have moved up the agenda.
The 2022 CEO Purpose Report, a recent study published by Brandpie, surveyed 1000 CEOs across 7 markets. A key extract from the report is that a quarter of CEOs identify that future generations are key stakeholders for creating and capturing value in the long run. The percentage is higher in the legal (44%), financial services (34%), energy (31%), and architecture (30%) sectors.
It is not just the CEOs, politicans, governments officials, and institutional leaders are also keen on ensuring that their decisions are fair for current and future generations. The EU President Ursula von der Leyen, in her recent State of the Union address (2022) said,
“A simple principle should inspire every action that our (European) Union takes. That we should do no harm to our children’s future.”
This is only one example. There is evidence all around us of greater interest in intergenerational fairness, as governments and intergovernmental organisations set the tone:
- Last year the German Constitutional Court declared the current climate protection measures insufficient and revised its targets to become greenhouse gas neutral by 2045 rather than 2050 – and effectively established a duty on current German actors to ensure they don’t limit the freedoms of future generations.
- In Portugal President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has made a public statement championing intergenerational solidarity. SOIF has developed an intergenerational fairness assessment for the Portuguese government and civil society.
- In Our Common Agenda, the UN Secretary-General placed intergenerational fairness at the heart of its ambitions, outlining the need for a Declaration on Future Generations and a United Nations Special Envoy for Future Generations.
- In Canada the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Chrystia Freeland, recently said, “One of the things that I am most concerned about as someone who… is 53 years old is intergenerational injustice. We had a better shot at buying a home and starting a family than young people today, and we cannot have a Canada where the rising generation is shut out of the dream of home ownership.”
In other words, all of the evidence suggests that the tide on intergenerational fairness is running fast. For businesses that are purpose-driven, this represents a significant opportunity. It informs the ‘business stewardship’ approach that is now a part of management education. It can underpin company values and sustainability agendas. It can motivate staff—not just younger staff—and act as an attractor for the best talent.
In May 2022 The Office of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth and sustainability pioneer The Body Shop published the findings of a jointly commissioned independent research paper that found out that three quarters (76%) of under 30 year olds think politicians don’t listen to young people. They’re now advocating together for youth participation in political life through the Be Seen Be Heard campaign that focuses on supporting efforts that promote policy and legislation change.
“We are not an NGO. We are a business. We are for profit. Absolutely. But we’re for society and we’re for the environment as well. Figuring out how we give a voice to younger people is incredibly important to us”, said David Boynton of The Body Shop in an interview with Brandpie about the importance of company purpose in business.
Other companies are reflecting the views of future generations through their governance structure. Riversimple – producers of sustainable cars – have developed a Future Guardian model of governance. “The seventh generation principle has been central to our thinking. A Whole System solution needs complementary design and innovation at three levels; the product – the technology for a new generation of cars; the system – a business model that makes sustainability and efficiency profitable; and the purpose – a supporting governance structure. The six custodians governance structure ensures a collaborative and healthy balance between short and long term interests.”
said Fiona and Hugo Spowers of Riversimple said in an interview with SOIF
Aspiration needs process if it is to succeed. School of International Futures (SOIF), ihas been working for the last five years to develop tools and methodologies that support leaders in assessing the impact of their decisions on present and future generations.
Here are three practical ways for leaders to demonstrate they will walk the talk on considering their impact on future generations:
- Establish a Future Generations representative on your board;
- Stress test and assess your business strategy, major investments and decisions for Intergenerational Fairness;
- TBe the chief narrator of your company’s story, from its history through current day and into a positive future that is envisaged with your staff and wider community.
As a business lens, the idea of intergenerational fairness can help to bring clarity and purpose to the decisions made by leaders. It is an opportunity for CEOs and board members to underline their role as stewards of the organisation’s purpose, connecting past, present, and future.
Catarina Zuzarte Tully, is the Managing Director of School of International Futures (SOIF)
Elisa Cecilli, is the Head of Innovation and Insights at Brandpie
Note: SOIF’s Next Generation Foresight Practitioners (NGFP) hosting a session open to CEOs and others at COP27 on 16th November at the Youth and Children Pavillion. The session will include a discussion on intergenerational fairness as an approach to coordinate action. For more information please contact NGFP Practice Lead, Abi Nokes on ab*@so**.uk