Monday, May 1, 2017

Nothing quite like generalizing about generations

Throwing back cappuccino and biscotti in a tiny café in London, Braungart is in an ebullient mood as he talks with C&EN. He has just come from advising a global cosmetics firm on sustainable raw material selection. Opportunities for making personal care products sustainable are legion, he says. 
These days Braungart is also lifted by society’s growing sense of awareness that chemistry is part of the tool box for a better, more sustainable world. It wasn’t always so.
“Because of chemistry’s reputation after Bhopal, Seveso, and other disasters, we wiped out a generation of the best young chemistry students—they all became bankers,” Braungart says. But in his role as a professor at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, he has seen a shift. 
“The banking sector has been behaving so badly that it is now considered a worse profession to go into than the chemical industry,” Braungart says. “More of the brightest students are coming back to chemistry,” he says. 
“For the younger generation, self-esteem is more important than money. Just look at today’s selfie culture: Kids are equally proud of what they are doing as making money. So, I am optimistic. The likelihood is that their adoption of C2C will be so much faster,” Braungart enthuses. 
Worsening strain on the environment presents the perfect opportunity for young chemists to provide more sustainable approaches, he says. “And the good news is that chemistry in the past has been so pointless that what young chemists are doing will already be 10 times better for the environment because we were never considering the environment before. There are lots of opportunities for young scientists,” Braungart says.
"Chemistry in the past has been pointless" - gotcha.  (Personally, I think there are plenty young people who want a lot of money. Shrug.) 

33 comments:

  1. 1) I don't think reputation counts as much as the ability to make a living, especially when many of the people deciding what to do might have the ability to make money as one of their highest priorities. The opinion of chemistry didn't matter to me so much (although it wasn't that negative).

    2) Banking (particularly after 2008 and the lack of structural change) is probably an oligopoly, which likely makes its security for employment higher than in chemistry. I don't know if this is true, but I also assume that the flexibility of people trained in banking to move into different areas is greater than in chemistry, so that you can use your expertise for longer.

    3) We get what we pay for - if we pay people to decide how to use money more than other things, then that is likely what we will get more of. We told them through elections they could do what they want, and so they are. If banks were so unpopular, we'd have probably done more to prevent them from having the capacity to sink the economy, and obviously we didn't (we elected people who mostly wanted to do the opposite).

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  2. As a reader of C&EN for the past 12 or so years the magazine seems to have taken a huge shift to the left of center.

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    1. That started more than 12 years ago. A lot of politics in a scientific news magazine.

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    2. When one political party seemingly has it out for you, staying neutral is no longer a reasonable option.

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    3. But yet we were assured by the ACS that the "March for Science" was strictly non-partisan.

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    4. The ACS is not well-known enough for a political party to "have it out for them".

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  3. In the view of many environmentalists, the path to sustainability is an economy that doesn't grow.

    Having a work force that values "self-esteem" over making money is a good way to accomplish that.

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    1. I wonder how much Raman Noodles or Generic Mac and Cheese you can buy with self-esteem?

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  4. This article (and moreso the comments here, I suspect) will provide a fun round of "oblivious-boomer-complaining-about-millennials" BINGO!

    Come on, I just need "snowflake" or "safe space"!

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  5. biotechtoreadorMay 1, 2017 at 5:34 PM

    "their adoption of C2C will be so much faster,"

    I assume that my having no clue what C2C means identifies me as old?

    "Just look at today’s selfie culture" indeed.....just as it says in Psalms 31:30: "Charm is deceptive, and accomplishments are fleeting; but a woman who totally rocks that Chive hoodie is to be praised".

    My apologies for any perceived blaspheme....

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    1. Proverbs? (Or for Biotech - maybe 1 Opinions? ) :)

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  6. Get off my lawn you young, C2C adopting, whippersnappers!

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  7. Tell you what, you stay off my lawn and I'll stay out of your parents' basement.

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  8. I'd take the money.

    I fit right into that millenial bracket and I think the 'experiences over possessions' concept that seems to be thrown at us (and that we are alarmingly adopting with gusto) is completely undermining our ability to own any kind of tangible assets.

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    1. biotechtoreadorMay 2, 2017 at 9:46 AM

      'experiences over possessions'

      It's also a good trope for mean gen Xers to pay you less....

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  9. It's not that we millenials don't like money, it's just much harder to get a job that makes a lot of money right after university these days - especially if one stays in science.
    You can't value something that you don't have.

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  10. I'm​ a little skeptical that wanting to make money but also somewhat enjoy or take pride in what you do is some recent millennial fad

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    1. I don't think it's a fad, but I do think Gen Xers and earlier generations were more likely to stick with a job they hated. A lot of that has to do with the fact that they had good job security and the jobs paid enough that they could afford to buy houses and support their families on a single income. You can live with a shitty job if it pays the bills and keeps doing so for your entire adult life. How many fields offer stability AND good wages now? I'm sure millenials would stick with jobs longer if they offered that, but they don't. So if you're not getting stability or good wages, why would you continue doing a job that you hate? It's the one thing you CAN change, so people do.

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    2. "I do think Gen Xers and earlier generations were more likely to stick with a job they hated."

      The 'were more likely' is key. The concept of long term employment with 1 company started to disappear in the 90s, and with it any proclivity to stick with the same job. As a Gen Xer, I know very few people (outside of academe) who have been in the same job > 10 yrs, with most changing every 5 or so.

      Looking back at this description from 1990: "As Gen X came of age, media depictions of them were very negative: grungy, slackers, cynical, unwashed and challenging of authority. In 1990, Time Magazine described Gen Xers as "cautious" in this oft-cited article:

      "They have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder. They have few heroes, no anthems, no style to call their own. They crave entertainment, but their attention span is as short as one zap of a TV dial. They hate yuppies, hippies and druggies. They postpone marriage because they dread divorce. They sneer at Range Rovers, Rolexes and red suspenders. What they hold dear are family life, local activism, national parks, penny loafers and mountain bikes." (Time, 1990)" From http://www.thejuryexpert.com/2011/11/gen-x-members-are-active-balanced-and-happy/ does make it sound like Gen Xers have at least some traits in common with millenials (maybe let's just call them Gen Z.....)

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    3. "Well, it can't be our fault that they won't stay in a crappy job with little job security and low wages for our benefit, so it obviously has to be a defect in their character instead."

      Same song, different stanza, new boss.

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    4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zYMD_W_r3Fg

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    5. As for sticking with a job you hate, even today it can make sense for someone at a larger company to ride out a bad boss/project/situation until the next reorg. When I worked for a big chemical company, I never had the same boss and project for very long due to their addiction to re-orgs.

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  11. A few years ago, I was working for one of the big Fortune 50 chemical companies, and we did a study to decide if we should be developing more sustainable solutions for our customers. At the end of the study, we learned something obvious and depressing: The overwhelming majority of consumers support sustainable products, but a woefully small fraction of these people are willing to pay extra for sustainable products. We tend to be idealistic, until our ideals start to dip into our wallets.

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    1. Heh, reminds me a bit about the time when some companies started using normal-sized women to sell their products. It seemed like the right thing to do, but their sales dropped like paralyzed falcons. Back came the models.

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    2. This is the constant battle people create against themselves. Everybody wants to raise minimum wage, but don't raise the price of my Big Mac goddammit! You'd better keep jobs in America, but meanwhile I'll refuse to pay the higher price for goods. I can get 12 pairs of socks that were made in China for $3. Why would I pay more?!?!

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    3. I thought that C+E News had in one of their cleaning solutions articles that people were willing to pay 5-10% for greenness, but beyond that sales dropped. I assume that most of that is lack of willingness to give up for someone else, but the trustworthiness of companies is such that paying extra for benefits to workers or others may not mean the money actually ends up there. Most people are not willing to give up money for someone else's Porsche.

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  12. My experience, as a product development manager/chemist, is that salesmen and customers don't really care about the sustainability or "green" aspects of your product.

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    1. No one wants to pay for the externalities that we offload on the world by having non-green and non-sustainable processes and products. But offload them we do.

      If only there were an organization that could compel the inclusion of external costs across all industries, collect those costs and mitigate their impact. Why, that would be a thing!

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    2. We could call it the Stalin Commission. They'd come up with a plan every five years. What could go wrong?

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  13. "Just look at today’s selfie culture: Kids are equally proud of what they are doing as making money."

    Huh. iPhones and cell plans to take and send selfies must be significantly cheaper in Europe than in the U.S.

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  14. Braungart's ideas may be OK for Europe, but they won't be accepted in the US. Americans only fear real threats like ISIS, the EPA, and onerous regulations.

    Perhaps he can convince us to use sustainable materials in construction of the Southern Border Fortification.

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    1. I guess the rise of authoritarian strongmen and anti-immigrant political parties in Europe must have escaped your attention. You may have also missed Le Pen's wishes to move France to carbon neutrality and localized food production.

      Holding up Europe as a standard is crazy. Except for Denmark. They've got it on lock.

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    2. There are plenty of other places on the internet to discuss European politics.

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