Engaging the Next Generation in the Transition to Net Zero

The net zero journey has been a topic of conversation since 2008 when the UK Climate Change Act first set a target of achieving 80% of 1990 emissions levels by 2050. This target has changed several times, usually in response to the annual Carbon Budget, with the current target being to achieve 68% of 1990 levels by 2030 and achieve net zero by 2050.

This has naturally had an impact on public procurement, with bidders seeing net zero playing an increasing part in tenders. Public Procurement Note 06/21 formalised requirements for a net zero plan for contracts over £5m per year, while the Net Zero Estate Playbook set out the government’s plans for decarbonising its estate.

Net zero and bidding

It’s a rare tender that doesn’t have some mention of the environment or net zero commitments. This can either be part of the overall social value requirements of a bid or be a separate question with the buyer looking for mature net zero plans.

Outside of the legislation-dictated requirements, the net zero approach can vary depending on the buyer. For example, some local authorities have declared a climate emergency and will be looking to buy from partners who can support them in responding to this. Others may only be looking for the basic legal requirements to be met. In either case, bidders stand the best chance of winning if they have given their approach to environmental issues some serious thought and can support this by providing copies of policies and evidence of their achievements so far.

The journey ahead

Whether an organisation has its eye on achieving net zero in 8 years or 28, addressing the climate crisis is a long-haul project. From designing buildings with a net zero life cost to changing cleaning materials to a more eco-friendly option, we are only going to achieve the necessary change through consistent effort – and that means engaging the next generation in your processes and initiatives.

The good news is that both Millennials and Generation Z are already engaged in the idea of climate change and Gen Z are ready to make big changes to the way they live to that so they are primed and ready to be engaged in the activities you undertake – as long as you choose the right approach.

Engaging young people with net zero

Finding something new to engage with may be the biggest hurdle when working with younger people. This is the generation that has been raised with green issues making headlines; they know about reducing, reusing, and recycling, and eliminating single-use plastics. So how can you find a fresh way to approach these issues?

  • Digital Media
    Most young people stream a lot of video content, whether it’s Netflix, TikTok, or YouTube. But the emissions generated from digital services are equivalent to the aviation industry specifically because of the data centres they pass through. Using either a tablet or smartphone to wirelessly watch an hour of video a week uses roughly the same amount of electricity (largely consumed at the data-centre end of the process) as two new domestic fridges. While young people are very unlikely to want to stop being on their devices entirely, making a commitment to reducing their time might be more palatable. Campaigning with providers for change might also get them engaged – the majority of online traffic passes through data centres that get most of their power from gas, coal, and nuclear.
  • Electronic Footprint
    Digital media isn’t the only impact of an increasingly online life, with the digital carbon footprint becoming increasingly recognised. Actions that can be taken to reduce this include:

    •  Lowering the brightness on devices
    • Clearing out your email inbox including junk mail
    • Using tracking protection
    • Switching search engine to Ecosia
    • Delaying upgrades & recycling equipment
    • Reducing online shopping
  • Listening Not Talking
    The best way to engage anyone in any new venture is to give them a sense of ownership of it. While it can be tempting to develop a whole program for young people, the better approach could be to go in with a problem and let the young people come up with a solution. Not only will this let them feel fully invested in the solution, but they may come up with new and innovative ideas. The World Economic Forum advocates engaging and harnessing their skills, investing in youth-led solutions and giving young people a seat at the table.


Passing the torch

The net zero journey is set to last until 2050, by which time Millennials will be considering their retirement and Gen Z will be in their 40s. It’s important to remember that this will very much be their fight, and that will have to inspire subsequent generations to follow their lead and take the baton in turn. Finding ways to engage this generation is not only vital for winning tenders; it’s vital for the future.