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Communicating Sustainability in Social Media

4 Min Read

The past decade has witnessed the rise of two powerful components in the business world – sustainability and social media. Both have improved consumer interaction and changed the way businesses view success.

The food industry offers one prime example of how the public voices their insistence on sustainable business practices. According to a 2014 Cone Communications Research study, “three-quarters of Americans say sustainability is a priority when making food purchasing decisions.1 Americans seek sustainable business options to help not only themselves, but the rest of the world as well. In fact, 55% of global online consumers in 60 different countries said they would be willing to pay more for products and/or services if the company was committed to positive social and environmental impact2 – with 90% of shoppers worldwide more likely to switch to brands that support a good cause3.

What Is Sustainability In Business

While many people might immediately think of companies committing to healthy environmental policies and practices as the primary ideals of sustainability, the Ivey Business Journal discusses that sustainability in businesses involves managing the triple bottom line, which addresses and accounts for the company’s financial, social and environmental risks. All three of these factors are critical, each relying on the others in the modern world where the Internet and social media platforms have given the public a powerful voice to make business owners accountable on all fronts.

The most successful businesses focus on all three of these criteria in their daily business practice, knowing the world is watching. Ideally, the companies stay vigilant for their own altruistic purposes, but the financial component can sometimes tempt business owners to de-prioritize sustainable social and environmental practices.

Sustainability as a Social Media Marketing Strategy

As some companies are still dipping their toes into the great sustainability pool—weighing and measuring risks and rewards—other major companies now use sustainable business applications as a way to reach their audience on a personal and proactive level. By incorporating sustainability into their brand and message, many companies have discovered a direct opportunity for communicating sustainability to their existing and prospective customers.

Since sustainability has woven its way into the public consciousness, it allows forward-thinking organizations an opening for communicating sustainability credentials. A growing trend among companies such as GE and Levi Strauss involves developing a strong editorial voice via social media or email to spark a sustainability dialog among themselves and employees, the media, investors, NGOs, and customers. The Internet and other technologies, including social media platforms, have essentially made every company – regardless of the line of business it serves – a “publisher” of sorts. This is great news for organizations that wish to share their sustainability efforts with consumers and other stakeholders. In fact, we are quickly moving to a world where this has become standard operating procedure.” 

How Social Media Impacts Sustainability

In 2011, Forbes discussed the idea that social media would begin to force companies to tell the truth, noting how social media campaigns frequently target instances of corporate irresponsibility and enforce transparency. Businesses can no longer put their collective corporate heads in the sand and pretend the consumer will just ignore their lack of compassion for workers, poor environmental policies and practices, or a gross mismanagement of funds.

Social media is a self-sustaining force of its own, generated by like-minded and passionate consumers, employees, investors, and members of traditional media, who know that their collective voice can influence others in their Twitter or Facebook feeds to gain a more powerful base and inspire change.

Challenges of Sustainability in Social Media

While there are plenty of social media savvy corporations, such as Ford, Renault, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Intel, who have mastered the art of social media communication and consistently rank well on the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices Review, there are many other companies that struggle to reach their targeted audience.

Even if a company is implementing sustainability goals and the triple bottom line, they can struggle to communicate these goals to the public. Companies are challenged to open up a sustainability dialog, engage with their followers and measure the success of their social media campaigns. Thirty-four percent of consumers use social media to share positive information about companies and issues, while 29% are using social media to learn more about specific organizations and issues2.

Even companies that earnestly work toward sustainability face challenges in communicating their efforts, successes, and struggles to the public via social media and other outlets, according to a report released by Sustainly via Blue & Green Tomorrow.

Many companies will likely continue to experience growing pains as sustainability and social media become more prevalent. Individuals who complete an online MBA program will possess the knowledge and leadership skills necessary to implement the triple bottom line. These core values are used in real-world scenarios to benefit not only the company, but also communities around the globe.


  1. Cone Communications. “2014 Cone Communications Food Issues Trend Tracker.” 2014. Accessed February 8, 2016.
  2. Nielsen. “Nielsen Global Survey on Corporate Social Responsibility.” 2014. Accessed February 8, 2016.
  3. Cone Communications. “2015 Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Study.” 2015. Accessed February 8, 2016.

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