Ryan Flaherty, Manager, Advisory Services, BSR

At World Water Week in Stockholm two weeks ago, I was like a kid in a candy store. Given my work with food, beverage, and agriculture companies on sustainability strategies and supply chain management, this year’s theme, “Water and Food Security,” was a perfect fit. As I attended sessions and met with my peers, I was inspired by the innovative approaches happening on farms and watersheds across the globe and excited by the challenges and opportunities that water presents to business. However, the most impactful moment for me came on the last day, only hours before the close of the week’s events. And it had absolutely nothing to do with water, agriculture, sustainability, business, or anything else that I deal with day in and day out. It was a simple question:

“Who in the room will be retired in 10 years?”

Two-thirds of the audience raised their hands.


The question was posed by one of the young professionals tasked with bringing a twenty-something perspective to the conversation. The speaker elaborated that he would still be working in 2050, and he and a colleague presented two mind maps showing how they would like to see the world in 2050 and what they think needs to happen to get there.

How the World Might Look in 2050



How to Get There



Credit: Stockholm International Water Institute, 2012. Images used with permission. Click on images for larger view.


I don’t know how many times I’ve heard and have mentioned 2050 … It must come up at least five times in any given conversation on sustainability. We often talk about the world we will leave to our children and grandchildren, but I’ve never fully contemplated my future peers: Who will be working on sustainability in a little under 40 years? And how many of those people are involved in the work I am doing today? Luckily, the private sector tends to provide a younger voice than does academia or government—supplying an important driver for the innovation needed to create more sustainable businesses. And now more than ever, companies are recognizing that sustainability is a key recruitment tool for top-notch young talent.

However, when I think back to conversations about collaboration and stakeholder engagement and the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion, there is much discussion about gender, indigenous peoples, minorities, migrants, and so on. But the younger generation is often left out. And they shouldn’t be. They are important for the same reason as other under-represented demographics: They offer new ideas, different social constructs, and innovative solutions not bounded by years of operating in the status quo.

Going forward, I will be sure to emphasize to companies the importance of including the perspectives of their 2050 employees. And instead of focusing entirely on meeting with my current peers at conferences and events, I will seek out my future peers as well.