“To capitalize on the great opportunities the future provides, and to respond to the economic and social challenges we face today … requires the collaborative efforts of governments, businesses and other actors in society to be truly successful.”  So said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, earlier this year.

He was right. The challenge that lies before us is fundamentally one of collaboration. Yet it is also one of activation, of empowering the next generation to engage with the issues that affect their future. For this generation, the very concept of sustainability needs a makeover; it needs to be broken down into actionable outputs such as saving energy or reducing pollutants.

According to ground-breaking research conducted by the Forum, these future problem-solvers may not be committed to consuming less, but they want a light shone – by brands and by their peers – on how they can consume in a smarter way, create less waste and use more natural materials. That’s where Collectively.org comes in.

Collectively is a new digital media platform for young people, by young people: the 1.8 billion 16-34 year old “millennials” across the globe. It has come into being via a collaboration of more than 31 global companies, from Unilever to Coca-Cola, BT to Carlsberg and Marks & Spencer, with Facebook, Twitter, Nike, Google and many more. Actively supported by NGOs, including British charity Forum for the Future, Collectively has one simple, clear purpose: making sustainable living the new normal.

The aim is to inspire and mobilize the largest generation on the planet through rich, shareable content that showcases the positive impacts of sustainable living and meaningful action. It will do this by targeting young people with genuine calls to action, on issues that speak to their passions and can be scaled up to bring about real change in the world.

Collaboration underpins the work of the Forum: it’s an organization that brings together competing companies to find solutions to the world’s biggest challenges. And it’s this spirit that allowed the 31 competing companies involved in Collectively to unite for the greater good. This isn’t just about the companies: it’s about bringing together big brands and small ones, NGOs, intra-governmental organizations, individuals and (crucially) tomorrow’s problem-solvers to build a global platform.

It all started in Davos last year. A handful of us, the five founding partner brands, listened and learned.  We benefited hugely from a session with Global Shapers from Africa, the Middle East, the Nordic countries and Latin America. Now, 27 Collectively company members are already Forum partners and no less than 13 of the Forum’s Young Global Leaders have helped incubate and develop Collectively through the Forum’s Sustainable Consumption Global Agenda Council and Engaging Tomorrow’s Consumer Project.  In short, the only way for us to make Collectively work was to believe in the bigger philosophy of being a collective.

Collectively.org launched in early October and we created a not-for-profit company to manage the operations, led by Will Gardner as CEO. Next year will prove to be a crunch point: the path to COP 21 in Paris is paved with many challenges, and we must get it right. That’s why we have set ourselves an ambitious goal of reaching 5 million unique users between now and then, to establish a local presence in emerging markets.

As Collectively grows, we believe it can reach hundreds of millions of young people every year. But that will only happen if we activate the wider community of Forum partners, through broader and more diverse collaborations and disruptive thinking.

If we can build Collectively at a global scale with the ongoing support of the Forum and its partners, we’ll have done something truly unique. And if we get this right, we won’t be talking about sustainability, we’ll have created a #newnormal.

Niall Dunne is BT’s Chief Sustainability Officer, non-executive director of Collectively.org, a Young Global Leader and a member of the Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Climate Change. Twitter: @bluniall

Olivier Oullier, PhD, is Professor of Behavioural and Brain Sciences at Aix-Marseille University, a Young Global Leader and a member of the Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Behaviour. He designed and conducted the multi-country on-site research of the Engaging Tomorrow’s Consumer project for the Forum and its partners. Twitter: @emorationality

Image: A shopper carries bags, in the run-up to Christmas, in central London December 23, 2014. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor