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Companies turning to social media to communicate sustainability



Global companies are increasingly turning to social media to communicate their sustainability initiatives to the public, according to a report from Sustainly. The trend comes as consumers are taking more factors into account when making purchasing decisions.

The report looked at how 475 global companies communicate their sustainable actions and initiatives using social media. Sustainly argues that companies need to connect with people in an entertaining, informative and authentic voice on the issues they are passionate about to successfully communicate their sustainability work.

Companies that lead this year’s index include Unilever, Intel, Coca-Cola Company, Philips and McDonalds.

This year 273 companies were found to have some form of dedicated social media sustainability efforts, a significant increase on the 120 recorded in 2011. The growth highlights the need and business benefits of communicating sustainable practices to consumers.

The report states, “A decade ago, most companies considered sustainability, if they considered it at all, to be an environmental science pursuit that was best conducted behind closed doors. What they were keen to communicate to the outside world was the good work they were doing supporting charities and funding projects in areas where they had operations.”

However, over the last ten years a combination factors have put “sustainability issues into the thoughts and decision-making processes of the general public”.  From the public witnessing the impacts of climate change to a growing concern around the effects of the food we eat on our health, the public are increasingly considering a wide range of issues when purchasing products.

The report explains that social media has been one of the major drivers in the change of the public’s perceptions, as it allowed the spread of information, and misinformation, about sustainability issues.

As companies began to be challenged on sustainability issues, many were moving to embed sustainability issues throughout their business. For example, Unilever put in places a responsible palm oil souring strategy before it came under attack on YouTube by Greenpeace.

“Indeed many companies were already realising that being environmentally responsible and socially responsible want just the right thing to do, it was good business,” the report adds.

Now one of the challenges facing businesses is how to communicate sustainability in terms that “make sense to the outside world”. The report explains that this means talking about issues that are crucial to business survival, such as resource scarcity, sustainable supply chains and energy efficiency, in terms the public understands and cares about.

It added, “Food that won’t hurt you. Products free from poisons and carcinogens. Paying workers a decent wage. Fighting and curing diseases. Giving everyone an equal chance regardless of race, creed, gender or sexual preference. Not harming local habitats or communities.

“These are issues most people agree on and they just happen to dovetail with the technical terms sustainability professional in business hold dear. It’s just about talking the same language.”

Photo: hoboton via Freeimages

Further reading:

Diversity in business forms can deliver sustainable growth, says report

Unep: corporates and investors should join forces for sustainable business

British businesses make sustainable timber pledge

McKinsey: company leaders rallying behind sustainability

Unilever and Siemens among companies named sustainability leaders