Sustainability Demystified! plans for Millennials


The Sustainability Demystified! luncheon crowd at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. Photo via

One of the key topics that was discussed during the Sustainability Demystified! luncheon hosted by Mercantile Bank and held at the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park was planning for the Millennial workforce.

Norman Christopher, executive director of sustainability at Grand Valley State University and panel moderator, asked the question first as he provided the introduction to the day’s panel earlier this month, which included Mayor George Heartwell, Kurt Hassberger, COO at Rockford Construction and Kerri Miller, civil engineer and senior associate at Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber.

“We do not inherit the earth from our fathers, we borrow it from our children,” Christopher said, quoting the famous environmental saying.

With nine years under his belt at GVSU focusing on the campus’ sustainability efforts, Christopher has seen firsthand how important sustainability is becoming to future generations.

He noted that 20 percent of all credit hours taken at the university are in sustainability.

A recent Princeton Review survey found that 68 percent of incoming freshman value the environmental commitment of the institution they choose to attend, making campus sustainability all the more important to staying competitive.

Millennials are known as the generation that cares, meaning they want careers in which they feel they're making a difference in their community and having a positive impact.

These young workers are not only demanding sustainability from the companies for which they work, they also are starting businesses based on services and products that make a difference both environmentally and socially.

Rockford Construction's Hassberger noted that community sustainability is important in recruiting and retaining talent.

Young people want to live in a sustainable community, he said. He also mentioned that young workers no longer are searching for homes in the quiet suburbs, but are looking for urban living, public transit and ways to be connected 24/7, which makes Grand Rapids’ downtown revitalization efforts all the more important for the city’s future.

“Twenty- to 30-somethings, they get it,” Hassberger said. “They’re aware of it, and we need to cater to that, what they want, and keep these people in the communities.”

Hassberger mentioned that his own son has spent 10 years living in Chicago and has never owned a car and doesn’t plan to.

“We need to provide a community that fits that lifestyle,” he said.

Sustainability isn’t just about renovating derelict buildings and adding bicycle lanes and the Silver Line, it’s also about job creation, and Hassberger said those jobs better be tasks that younger generations want to be doing.

Fishbeck's Miller noted that companies might have up to five generations of workers in their office, and sustainability seems to be one area bridging the generation gap, because everyone has a stake and interest in learning and implementing new solutions to business and community challenges.

Finally, the panelists addressed the question of the changing work environment, thanks to technology that allows many jobs to be done anywhere.

“We don’t want to be building yesterday’s space for tomorrows users,” Hassberger said.

Companies need to be thinking about their future work force as they make long-term decisions today, he said.

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