As I write this month’s column, I’m attending Plumbing Manufacturer’s International annual Manufacturing Success conference in Louisville, Kentucky. PMI has done a great job with its programming content this year, especially with keynote presenter Andrew Winston, a corporate environmental strategist and author, who discussed how today’s companies are now expected to take a stand against the world’s social and environmental problems — and in doing so, earn a profit.

“Investing in ESG pays off,” he told the audience repeatedly. He proceeded to list numerous examples and reasons why. Google Flights now has a search feature where it will show users the routes with the lowest carbon footprints. Amazon is testing a new feature to search for climate-friendly products (think laundry detergent). Additionally, companies are expected to have positive position statements on things such as LGBTQ and minorities in the workplace. When Russia invaded Ukraine, companies had to think about whether they wanted to continue doing business in Russia. In our industry, REHAU notably suspended its Russian operations before selling its business and withdrawing from the country.

This is the way the world is turning, and Winston told PMI members that it’s not going away, mostly because the younger generations — millennials and Gen Z — are holding brands accountable for their actions.

One of the most interesting parts of his discussion was his take on millennials and Gen Z in the workforce. Though it pains me to admit, millennials are pushing 40 — we’re no longer the next generation workforce. That title has now passed to Gen Z. And if you thought we millennials were difficult to manage, just wait to see what’s in store next.

“Global surveys keep showing that millennials want to find value and meaning in their jobs,” Winston said. “Because there’s not that social contract with workers anymore. My dad worked for 35 years for IBM, but that practice died. We chose a shareholder maximization path that meant firing people made your stock go up. That’s been true for 30 to 40 years. So why are we surprised? People are going to go where they can get the best. Now, that includes lifestyle and wanting to work from home, and companies demanding everyone come in are going to have some trouble, especially with Gen Z. There was a great article a few months ago about how older millennial managers didn’t know how to deal with Gen Z. Young Gen Z workers were saying things like, ‘You know, I was going to come into day, but I’m not feeling it.’ They don’t get why you should work all day — if you get done with work by 1 p.m. — you’re done for the day. They just have a different view of work and a different view of business.

“Gen Z thinks companies should be solving the environmental and social problems of the world,” he continued. “Gen Z includes Greta Thunberg from Sweden who started a mobile movement from her phone. They can mobilize in ways that we can't fully understand, and that is good and scary. But the larger question here is for every company, what kind of people can you attract and retain if you're not talking about your sustainability efforts? This is why it's not going away. These are generational norms that are permanent.”

Yes — I admit the whole work-from-home and flexible work schedule premise may not work for the trades. However, as a millennial, I ask you to please remember these generational stereotypes do not apply to everyone. Just browse through our Next Gen All Stars list and you’ll see examples of hardworking Gen Zers carving a career path out for themselves.

According to a Deloitte survey, while money and salary do matter to Gen Z, so do work-life balance, perks and benefits. The survey also found that 77% of respondents say working in organizations whose values align with their own is important. “Gen Z no longer forms opinions of a company solely based on the quality of their products/services but also now on their ethics, practices and social impact. To win the hearts of Gen Z, companies and employers will need to highlight their efforts to be good global citizens. While focusing on the quality of the goods/services you provide is still important, a company’s ethics are more important than ever. Moreover, actions speak more loudly than words: Companies must demonstrate their commitment to a broader set of societal challenges, such as sustainability, climate change and hunger.”

The plumbing and heating industry is uniquely suited to reach Gen Z in terms of climate sustainability. This industry is on the leading edge of water conservation, water quality and yes — decarbonization and electrification. All this new technology is an added bonus when it comes to attracting younger workers to the trades.

Plumbing contractors, wholesalers, reps and manufacturers need to promote that to this up-and-coming generation. Want to save the world? Become a plumber. After all, plumbers protect the health of the nation, and modern-day sewage systems and clean water have eradicated more disease and saved more lives than all the doctors in the world.