There’s more than just one logic: let us show more courage to enter into the intergenerational dialogue on sustainability
‘Saving the planet will not work when half the population is not involved’ (De Tijd, 15 June 2022). The war in Ukraine is causing a significant decline in growth, according to the OESO (De Tijd, 8 June 2022). Capital study suggests growing inequality in Belgium after all (De Tijd, 19 May 2022). We’re not exactly reinventing the wheel by claiming that uneasy choices need to be made in order to realize the transition to a more sustainable society. While these choices are going to hurt now, they will definitely benefit future generations.
Those choices are often being shuffled off on the younger or next generations, “because, for now, the world is still hanging on”. Yet we cannot and we should not permit ourselves to wait for them. This is not the story of one generation. Putting into place a more sustainable future is an intergenerational process. Choices will have to be carefully considered in dialogue with each other. In doing so, there will be no room for simplistic arguments or the logic of one single generation, country or company. Let us connect all of the logics and enter into an open dialogue.
Such intergenerational dialogue was the perspective put forward by the third Dean’s Club of the Antwerp Management School (AMS). With a critical mind, students entered into dialogue with leaders from the corporate and educational sectors about the challenges we are facing in the area of sustainability. How, as a ‘good ancestor’ and across the generations, can we assume our joint responsibility for the generations that come after us?
There is no such thing as an easy answer
The first step to be able to initiate a sustainable dialogue, is to recognize and accept the uncertainties and paradoxes of our time. More than ever, we live in an age characterized by VUCA: volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. One thing is for certain: everything is uncertain and our reality, by definition, is complex and full of contradictions.
But that is precisely where we should start looking for answers. Uncertainty and opposing arguments inspire us to come up with pioneering and innovative solutions. Putting these game changers into practice, however, is easier said than done. Nevertheless, we believe that we are capable of a lot when we join forces and link up our logics.
Another thing that’s abundantly clear: the upcoming generation of leaders has high expectations where the sustainability transition is concerned. As it is, students increasingly expect their future employer to have a clear vision on sustainability. Actually, more than a vision. ‘Talking the walk’ will no longer cut it for a company or CEO. ‘Walking the walk’ – not marketing fluff, but tangible, visible action – that’s the motto.
Dialogue works both ways: companies and business leaders also want to know about the new generation’s vision on sustainability and to what degree they would be willing to make compromises. Consider, for instance, company cars, low cost flights and next-day delivery. Are we aware of the far-reaching choices we will need to make? Are we prepared to sacrifice some comfort and convenience?
An ode to dialogue
Opening a dialogue can lead to interesting insights. But dialogues can get out of hand. Create a commotion. Which is why we tend to avoid them sometimes. Hidden inside that dialogue, however, across and within the generations, lies a more sustainable society. And all the while we should be realizing that our personal frame of reference is but one of many possible paradigms. To enable such thinking exercises, diverse and inclusive teams and organizations are hugely important. They are a must to exercise our thinking muscles for a sustainable dialogue.
Dialogue across the generations has to be created and facilitated if we want to be able to “find” each other’s viewpoints. As we can tell from the Dean’s Club, education and research can play a hugely connecting factor in achieving this. In the business world, investing in (reverse) mentorship pays off: getting younger and older generations to work together more and in doing so, attracting one’s attention to the other person’s added value, rather than becoming fixated on each other’s age and the mindset that is often associated with it (De Meulenaere, ALL, & Kunze (2022)).
Let’s, all of us, show more courage to enter into the intergenerational dialogue on sustainability. There’s not one single logic that will guide us through these uncertain times. Rather, from the connection between the various logics, answers to the current challenges will arise.
Steven De Haes (Decaan, AMS), Eddy Annys (Managing Director, Randstad Group Belgium), Jan Beyne (Researcher Sustainable Transformation Lab, AMS), Françoise Chombar (Chair Board of Directors, Melexis), Dirk Coorevits (CEO, Soudal), Ilse Daelman (Managing Director, AMS), Pierre De Strycker (Algemeen Directeur, POM Antwerpen), Ans De Vos (SD Worx Chair Next Generation Work, AMS), Yassir Essoussi (AMS student Master in Management), Véronique Goossens (Chief Economist, Belfius), Mimi Lamote (Chair Alumni Board, AMS), Marc Lauwers (CEO, Argenta Bank- en Verzekeringsgroep), Veerle Limbos (Director Structural Partnerships, AMS), Henri Luwaert (AMS student Master in Global Supply Chain Management), Roma Menon (AMS student Master in Global Supply Chain Management), Anna-Lena Müller (AMS student Master in International Fashion Management), Eva Peeters (Business Lead Full-time Masters, AMS), Sebastian Reichel (AMS student Master in Innovation and Entrepreneurship), Jan Remeysen (CEO, BASF Antwerpen), Ahmed Shakeeb (AMS student Master in Global Management), Vandita Sharda (AMS student Master in Global Management), Achille Sobry (AMS student Master in Maritime and Air Transportation Management), Jan Suykens (CEO, Ackermans & van Haaren), Stephanie Theiss (AMS student Master in Human Resources Management), Anja Tys (Corporate Brandig & Communication Manager, AMS), Ewald Van den Auwelant (Researcher Sustainable Transformation Lab, AMS), Jan Van der Goten (Head of Janssen Pharmaceutica Campus & Strategic Partnerships), Johan Van Genechten (Board Member General Council, AMS), Herman Van Goethem (Rector, Universiteit Antwerpen), Anita Van Looveren (CEO, OM Partners), Kobe Verdonck (CEO, SD Worx), Wayne Visser (BASF Randstad Port of Antwerp Chair in Sustainable Transformation, AMS), Daphne Wauben (AMS student Master in Finance), Chris Wuytens (Managing Director, CEO, Acerta), Sven Cauwelier (CEO Stad en OCMW Antwerpen), Griet Helsen (Entrepreneurial and Private Business Leader - Audit partner, PwC Belgium).
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