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How might now look and feel to a 21-, 22-, or 23-year-old?

For ones born from 1997 to 2012, a new "cohort" name--perhaps Generation Z, or Zoomers, or iGen, or as popular generations author Neil Howe might daub this 67 million post-Millennial group in the U.S., Homelanders--will take hold as they morph into adulthood. When will "normal" come, and what will it look like?

What we can only guess is how powerfully events and circumstances of a moment we call "unprecedented" imprint on their lives, their values, their attitudes, their preferences, and their behavior as they one-day take the reins in communities, regions, nations, and the world.

Here's one take on how it may look and feel to a 21-, 22-, or 23-year-old.

Climate and COVID-19 is an unfathomable pairing of catastrophes. One will surely intersect with the other in ways not yet clear. This much is: For huge numbers of young people, the virus will become a defining moment in their formative years and the economic hardship unleashed will almost certainly shape their worldview in the same ways the 1930s Great Depression raised its children to become frugal adults.

Many will graduate into a recession, having grown up in the long shadow of the Great Recession from 2007 to 2009. The largest generation in U.S. history, already saddled with student loan debt, will be looking for jobs as the number of Americans out of work—26 million at the end of April—quickly moves into Depression-era territory.

Globally, the pandemic’s impact on Gen Z is even more dire: Schools have closed for 1.5 billion children, more than 90 percent of the world’s student population, at a time when online learning is unavailable for half the world because it lacks access to the internet or a computer. The virus will turn thousands of youths into orphans and is rapidly spreading through Africa, straining health systems on a continent still struggling to contain the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Some may not be surprised, however dire this current assessment may come across, to learn that the National Geographic piece by staffer Laura Parker does not reach a dystopian conclusion. Rather, the opposite:

Seventy-five years ago, a stronger world emerged from two world wars, a stock market crash, and the Great Depression. Authoritarianism was driven out and Europe rebuilt. Social Security, created in 1935, arose from the depths of the Great Depression and public relief programs, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps that protected natural resources, put people back to work. The Gen Zs I talked with believe a better world is possible.

What comes clear among the bright, impassioned, handful of likely leaders of the future Parker catches up with is less about their not knowing what they don't know, and more about their canny awareness of matters many more experienced among us find it tough to recognize.

The relationship, for instance, of things to one another. Convergence as an essential way of understanding our current state seems to make more sense to those who are younger than those of us who grew up more comfortable with separate compartments for just about everything.

So, to GenZ, the following may make all the sense in the world.

At the center of the model is a box representing the convergence of factors leading to the emergence of an infectious disease. The interior of the box is a gradient flowing from white to black; the white outer edges represent what is known about the factors in emergence, and the black center represents the unknown (similar to the theoretical construct of the “black box” with its unknown constituents and means of operation). Interlocking with the center box are the two focal players in a microbial threat to health—the human and the microbe. The microbe-host interaction is influenced by the interlocking domains of the determinants of the emergence of infection: genetic and biological factors; physical environmental factors; ecological factors; and social, political, and economic factors.

When "domains" such as biological, social, economic, and political "interlock," rather than to operate in discrete streams or spheres, it changes how one looks at what's going on versus what may be a preferred state of things.

This change matters. Now as much as ever in any of our lifetimes.

This is why--although the 50th Anniversary of the first Earth Day may have come and gone last week without the impact it ought to have had--strategic plans and organizational mission and values initiatives that shine a light on that "interlock" matter so much.

Adam Frank, a University of Rochester astrophysicist, describes that "interlock" this way.

"The international COVID-19 pandemic is many things, but its deepest impact may be fostering a recognition that this machine of civilization that we built is a whole lot more fragile than we thought. And that is why, in the long term, the coronavirus will one day be seen as a fire drill for climate change.

"To understand the powerful connection between this pandemic and climate change, we must understand exactly what "modern civilization" means from a scientific point of view. For researchers, the global high-tech society we've built over the last 100 years is actually a series of networks laid on top of one another."

When KB Home produced its first "sustainability report" thirteen years ago, in 2007, an "apocalypse" of another order was unfolding, the Great Recession, a financial collapse, and a housing depression whose depths and pain were unlike any cyclical downturn since the 1930s.

"We took a risk," says Dan Bridleman, senior vp, Sustainability, Technology and Strategic Sourcing at KB Home. "Would we ever have imagined 13 years ago the magnitude of the shock we're facing now? At least, as we undertook that first step, we tried to grasp at a basic level, what's important next."

The firm's 13th Sustainability Report marks milestone strides in environment, social impact, and governance that put KB Home in the forefront among peers for recognizing and making changes that a 21-, 22-, or 23-year-old may insist on as they emerge as adults in households, which represent 70% of economic activity.

To name a few such milestones:

  • Building its unprecedented 140,000th high-performance ENERGY STAR® certified new home, more than any other homebuilder. These homes are designed to save energy and support healthier indoor air environments.
  • Debuting KB ProjeKt®: Where Tomorrow Lives™, a health-oriented, full-scale experience of the future of homebuilding designed to support its residents’ physical and emotional health
  • Partnering with a pioneering technology firm to offer at select communities an industry-first wellness intelligence system that uses proprietary software and sensor technologies to enhance safety, comfort, indoor air environments, quality of sleep and overall well-being and is certified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Indoor airPLUS program for indoor air quality
  • Selling its 10,000th solar-powered home, with 17% of its homes now incorporating solar (up from 14% in 2018) Receiving EPA’s ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year – Sustained Excellence Award for an unprecedented nine years in a row (with its tenth award recently announced), as well as the EPA’s WaterSense® Sustained Excellence Award for the fourth consecutive year (following four Partner of the Year awards)

“During this uncertain time, our homes have taken on even greater significance in our lives,” said Jeffrey Mezger, KB Home Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer. “Our homes have become our workplaces, our schools and our centers of health and well-being. While it is difficult to foresee how this situation will evolve, one thing remains certain: in every economic and social environment, people will continue to seek a sanctuary from life’s cares, to rejuvenate and recharge, and to nurture their talents, relationships and spirits in a place called home. Throughout the more than six decades KB Home has been in business, our primary purpose has been to build the places where our customers can fulfill the fundamental human need for both shelter and connection. People are our foundation.”

The crux of the matter, for KB Home and for other builders, is about the kind of accountability people who are 22-years-old, and people who are their parents and grandparents have begun to expect--and demand--of home and community builders.

"When we look back at 2007, and we were looking at the energy piece of it, and we knew it was important to the environment, we knew what we'd try to accomplish then and we set goals to reach for," says Bridleman. "As we've gone along, we recognized the carbon emissions footprint challenges, and set goals there, and we've recognized the water challenges, and we've set goals there. Now, we're acutely aware of the health and wellness aspects of the challenge, and we have a long way to go there. But a central theme in our sustainability reports is making sure we have a balance between the needs of today and what expectations we should be trying to reach for future generations."

So, if you're a 21-, 22-, or 23-year-old, now may look and feel pretty scary. KB Home and a number of other home building, development, manufacturing, and investment organizations have begun to make themselves more accountable for how things look and feel to those emerging adults. Some call them "stakeholders." Some know they'll be customers, even shareholders in publicly-held corporations that come out of the current crisis stronger.

"When and however the crisis of COVID-19 eventually gets solved may be an unknown," says KB Home's Bridleman. "For home builders, we're getting a profound experience of how much of our lives, our health and our well-being as human beings revolves around our homes. That's going for us now. And we have a responsibility that goes with that recognition."