Changing (Dis)Course - Sustainability and Emergence

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sustainability and emergence

What can be learned from Generation Y? The existing strategies, policies and measures for economic development, social welfare and ecosystem management all have one thing in common. They have been designed and deci­ ded on by people of the age 40 years plus. Today’s business leaders, Heads of State and leading journalists were all born sometime between 1945 and 1980, making them either part of the so called generation of Baby Boo­ mers or Generation X. The people at the steering wheel: Baby Boomers and Xers We are members of local student initiatives at the University of Konstanz: the Sustainability Council Uni Konstanz, oikos Konstanz and Each of the organizations have different foci: the sustainability council is a local initiative working with small scale projects and in university politics towards a more sustainable campus. oikos Konstanz is part of the globally active oikos international initiative. oikos Konstanz seeks to mainstream sustainable lifestyles and business ideas by organizing seminars, lectures and workshops on topics such as sustainable urban development and eco-fashion. Lead-Ahead. com is a blog focusing on how sustainable leadership can impact private and public organizations. All three initiatives consist of students by the University of Konstanz. Every now and then, the initiatives get together for a coffee and join forces in order to carry out larger-scale projects. The paper was a product of some skype meetings we had over the last weeks. It was a nice experience to discuss and collaboratively write a paper in this kind of way!

For the generation of Baby Boomers, things were stable. Born in North America, Austra­ lia and Western Europe between 1945 and the 60s, they enjoyed the benefits of a peace­ ful, post war and economically prosperous era. In this period many governmental sub­ sidies and the availability of cheap fossil fuels furthered technological advancements and, as a result, fostered economic growth. However, the sheer number of people from the Baby Boomers’ birth cohort boosted the demand for consumer products and sub­ urban homes on an unprecedented scale. Grown-up Baby Boomers worked in a disci­ plined and loyal manner, preferred a stable working environment and separated their personal and professional lives from each other. People were striving for job security and willing to climb up the career ladder by promotions. Success was associated with

stability and growth was understood as an indicator for societal stability. The Generation X, which describes those people born between 1965 and 1980, however, re-defined the meaning of success. In their youth, they took control over their individual life styles and formed subcultures in fashion, music and arts. At the workplace, they were advocates for their values and they belief in their own skills. With their MBAs and PhDs, Xers pushed for quick promo­ tion and used every chance to achieve rapid growth in order to get ahead of their com­ petitors. Always on the lookout for better offers, it was important for them to be in the right place at the right time: business time was extended into the night time, mixing professional and personal lives. No wonder this birth cohort is being remembered as the competitive generation. Success, as the market research company box 1824 puts it, meant to be rich and young. The scientific evidence of complex dynamic challenges such as climate change, social in­ equality and degraded ecosystems, contra­ dict the Baby Boomers’ belief in stability. Maintaining the status quo in an ever chan­ ging environment cannot be the solution. Also, the idea of infinite growth in a finite world that is the basis of the Generation X’s belief system cannot be upheld. Thus, we need to break up with these models of think­ ing – we need to be innovative.


The kids on the back seats: Generation Y The next generation, “Generation Y” (also GenY, Millennials or global youth) are those young Millennials born between the early 1980s and the 2000s. At the moment, they are students, interns, assistants, and activists, so their influence on the political and economic system is emerging, but still small. Those people bene­ fit from the existing political rights, increased individualism value and economic wealth - hard-earned by the preceding generations. The current generation has an affinity on technique; the Internet is part of daily business with being connected 24 hours seven days a week. However, their vast social network does not remain in the digital sphere. Exchange programs, internships and journeys foster a real-life network across cultures and continents. Due to the initial contacts and new possibilities of communication, this generation is likely to be first to develop empathy for people all over the globe. Even though Millennials seem to be too young and unexperienced to manage the challenges of sustainability, they developed attitudes and behaviors that can teach previous generations some lessons when it comes to sustainable development. Having friends in Canada, China and South-Africa may be the key for successful international negotiations on climate change. Looking back at UN conferences on sustainable development, state representatives did not come to meaningful binding agreements because many nation states were afraid that environmental conservation and protection would come at the extent economic losses. But once nation leaders from the Global North are personally and emotionally connected to people from the Global South, the argument that climate change mitigation is financially not viable could become less important. Many Millennials notice, that Baby Boomers and Xers stressful jobs seem to lack a meaningful purpose. Hence, many young people followed their passion and tried to throw away the societal corset in order to work towards a peculiar meaningful goal. Considering the overwhelming challenges people all over the world are faced with today, there is a high risk for feeling hopeless and powerless towards the future. However, the contrary seems to be

by Josephine Tröger


sustainability and emergence

sustainability and emergence

true: The current generation is highly moti­ vated to solve this challenge with new models and life styles, that are not based on growth, consumption and false dependen­cies, e.g. from a continuously increasing gross dome­ stic product. People want to speed up the development and implementation of sustain­ ability strategies that really mitigate climate change. What does success mean for Millennials? Growing up with rapid technological pro­ gress, rampant economic crises and devas­ tating ecological degradation, this generati­ on breaks up with the illusion of old models of wealth, economic growth and personal success. They seek to redefine values, ques­ tioning behavior and want to find out, how to get to personal and continuous well-being. They are sharing the Point that it is impor­ tant to live consciously in the moment. They are not racing towards the final destination at the ways end, but more taking the way as the aim and ironically, doing what makes one happy has unlocked a new collective po­ wer among Millennials that sets a new pace and structure for sustainable development. Navigation from the back seat: Generation Y acting at the University of Konstanz At the University of Konstanz, students took advantage of their collective motiva­tion to alter life on campus according to their own wishes. Where the curriculum did not offer the topics they judged as important for solv­ ing future questions, they conceptualized

and organized their own seminars and work­ shops with the help of external speakers. For some, the campus needed to become “edible”, so they built vegetable gardens right next to lecture halls. Others talked to the cafeteria management in order to change the menu at the canteen’s university, wishing for more or­ ganic, regional and more vegetarian food. In many discussions with the universities’ ad­ ministration, facility management and other stakeholders, the students’ sustain­ability initia­tives strengthen their call for the insti­ tutionalization of sustainability. However, one might ask, do these projects really contribute to sustainable develop­ ment? Is there a measurable impact? Are we taking the right way? We simply don’t know. Previous generations have failed to manage the planet sustainably, so there is no absolute moral authority who can tell what’s good or bad and how projects turn out at the end of the day. For us, trial is the only way to create the new that might change the course of the planet for the better. Being able to command and control the en­ vironment, as we like, is a human illusion. However, it is something that young people have already realized. Young peoples’ atti­ tudes are much more in harmony with their environment as they adopted a non-linear way of thinking and acting. They start some­ where and end up somewhere else. If Generation Y takes over the era of sustain­ able development there will be an explosion of ideas and opportunities that motivates to join the movement.


Sources: Box 1824 (2013). All work all play (video clip). URL: http://vimeo. com/44130258. Box 1824 (2011). We all want to be young (video clip). URL: http:// Yu, Huichun & Miller, Peter (2005). Leadership style: the X generation and baby boomers compared in different cultural contexts. Leadership and Organization Development Journal, 26, 1, 35-50. Authors: Christoph Pfisterer (Politics and Administration, BA candidate), Josephine Tröger (Psychology, PHD candidate) & Tobias Stetter (Politics and Administration, MA candidate).