10 ways Social Media and Sustainability Align in the Corporate World.

I would first like to thank Max Gladwell for his blog entitled, Ten Ways that Social Media and Sustainability Align, which sparked the idea for this blog post.

At face value, social media and sustainability are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Social media is inherently intangible and lives online, while sustainability is concerned with the very real and tangible environment and earth. Yet when we drill down and examine these as human concepts, we get a sense that they are both involved in the same paradigm shift.

Most definitions for social media focus on its technologies; however this is a very static and limited view. At tcg we acknowledge that social media is a growing phenomenon enabled through adaptable technology; however, it is also about connecting people and facilitating collaboration, engagement, learning and the progression of ideas.

When it comes to defining sustainability, there are a number of definitions out there, which widely vary depending on who is talking and what their objectives are.

The World Commission on Environment and Development suggests that sustainability is defined as forms of progress that meet “the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”

I rather like the definition of environmental sustainability by Griffith University:

Environmental sustainability refers to the environmental actions or impacts of what we do. In moving towards sustainability, we are attempting to reduce our ecological footprint or to tread more lightly on the Earth. This equates to reducing the amount of resources we use (and buy), the waste we produce and the emissions we produce. With every action impacting on the planets ecosystems, from the local to the global, the world is changing and it is not just the climate.”

Here are 10 ways in which we believe that social media and sustainability within organizations are aligned:

  1. Shifting in the way we do things
  • We are in the process of a global paradigm shift. The way in which we think about and approach business is changing. As with any paradigm shift, the process is gradual involving conflict between the new paradigm thinkers and the holdouts of the old paradigm.
  • The rapid growth and change of social media has opened it up to scepticism, with protagonists suspicious of the technologies and the idea of open collaboration and the sharing of thoughts. This is a far cry from the closed, exclusionary and suspicious practices from the last century.
  • The sustainability movementis gaining in momentum, yet it does not make sense to individuals or institutions that are heavily invested and ensconced in their industrial mindset.
  1. Grew from grassroots movements into having mainstream application
  • Social media tools and sustainability practices both started as grassroots movements. For example, social media tools and applications, developed for social networking sites, have grown to have wider commercial uses. Think about how Facebook radically changed how organizations aggregate news stories and information through the introduction of news feed. The sustainability movement started out as a co-op for sourcing bio diesel fuel or sustainable produce and has escalated to achieving mainstream attention and buy in.
  1. Real gains/viable alternatives
  • In order to achieve buy in, both social media and sustainable practices have to prove they will provide real gains and provide viable alternatives. Organizations exist to achieve a return on investment (ROI),be it profit, achievement of social causes, etc. Both have the potential to achieve these objectives; however, this potential is largely misunderstood and miscommunicated.
  1. Whole system thinking
  • Social media strategies and corporate sustainability programs only work if there is whole system thinking. Merely adding a blog to your website does not constitute a social media strategy. Changing products’ packaging and labelling without addressing the whole value chain equally does not equate to a sustainable program. Also, for a sustainability program to work it needs to touch every aspect of a corporation. The authors of a program will be remiss if they did not take a whole system philosophy. The same applies to social media.
  1. Specific problems, specific strategies, specific executions, specific resolutions
  • There is no one size fits all strategy for corporations when it comes to developing a sustainability program or a social media strategy. Each organization has its own business rules, methods and objectives. Trying to reshape an organization to fit a predetermined strategy or set of tools and processes cannot lead to efficiencies or congruence.
  1. Integration
  • Once a strategy is put in place, all elements need to be integrated to allow for a flow of information, efficiencies of resources and a clear action path.
  • Social media is a phenomenon enabled through adaptable technology. It is about connections, facilitating collaboration, engagement, learning and the progression of ideas. It also uses tools such as CMS,LMS,tagging, intelligent search, wikis, communication tools, etc. to connect and integrate all elements of an organization.
  1. Internal buy in followed by external roll out
  • For any social media strategy or sustainability program to work it has to be embraced internally by the entire organization before it can be rolled out externally. This includes education, discussion, participation and belief that both projects will bring real value. Once there is internal buy in, the program can be rolled out publicly with the benefit of sincerity and purpose.
  1. Integrity
  • Openness, transparency and a true belief and commitment are essential to both sustainability programs and social media strategies. An increasingly sceptical public are increasingly capable of spotting opportunists.
  1. The future
  • Both sustainability programs and social media strategies are about changing the way we do things now so that our organizations survive and flourish in the future. Adapting the way we use our resources so as to ensure we allow for the regeneration of resources for future production makes sense, as well as the way we communicate, learn, share and disseminate information so we keep up with people’s learning styles, expectations and technology usage ensures we are heard, now and in the future.
  1. Mutually enabling
  • Rolling out a sustainability program within a corporation takes hard work, determination, communication and commitment. Social media tools and applications help with the integration, communication, learning, participation and momentum. Once these elements are sorted out internally, the same social media tools and applications can be used to externalize the message and objectives. Adopting a social media strategy within and organization so that it truly integrates all elements only works if it follows a sustainable model. Tagging on bits of technology, or trying to participate in social media externally to the organization cannot lead to lasting or holistic results.