Environmental Sustainability Essay Examples
Social media is one of the greatest developments in technology. The use of social media is now part of our daily lives and each day more and more people spend more time on social media. If one has access to the internet and a computing device, social media tools are at their fingertips. The increased use of smartphones has facilitated access to the internet anywhere and anytime. This has influenced how people communicate. Social media has also modernised the way we do business. In the modern times, organisations need social media strategies and presence in order to appeal to the ever-increasing online population. The business enterprises use social media to connect with the consumer. This pivotal role in the success of a business has encouraged the use of social media to influence environmental sustainability in businesses. The use of social media has been successful in influencing environmental sustainability.
The quality of human life on earth is highly dependent on the integrity of the natural environment. In the recent times, the natural environment has been deteriorating at an alarming rate (Melville 2010, p. 1). Business organisations are the most responsible social component that contributes to most of the deterioration of the natural environment. They contribute to most of the greenhouse gasses and solid and liquid waste that is responsible for the degradation of the environment. Therefore, since the businesses are the main contributors of the environmental degradation, all efforts on reversing the degradation of the environment start at the business enterprise level. Environmental sustainability is the practice of carrying out all business processes in a manner that ensures that the natural resources will be available for the future generations.
Environmental sustainability is a responsible corporate practice ensures the reduction of the impact of the operations of a company to the environment. All businesses have a moral obligation to be environmentally sustainable. Over and above this, all businesses need to communicate to their consumers adequately with regard to the measures that they are taking to achieve environmental sustainability. There is no a better tool to do this than social media.
Social media is a collective term used to refer to tools that allow sharing of user-generated content (Fuchs 2013, p. 2). There is a myriad of social media tools ranging from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+. People on social media share information in the form of text pictures, videos and sound files among others. The social media has created an online virtual community of users who share information as a large group (Fuchs 2013, p. 2). Anyone with an account on a social media platform has access to information from other account holders in the same platform depending on his or her preferences. This ease of access is one of the strengths of social media. In addition, the use of most social media platforms is completely free. As a result, each of the platforms of social media has millions of users representing all lifestyles (Fuchs 2013, p. 2).
The fact that social media platforms are free to use and their membership soars higher with each day makes them a perfect tool for marketing. In addition, many social media companies store custom information about their users’ preferences. This information is known as the “big data” (Fuchs 2013, p. 2). The social media companies sell this data to companies to help them in structuring targeted marketing campaigns and public relations strategies. The companies also use this data to evaluate their impact in the market and the satisfaction of their customers. The successful use of social media in the marketing of the products of companies made organisations realise that they can use the same concept to influence environmental sustainability (Lee 2014, p. 284).
How social media influences environmental sustainability
There is a myriad of ways that social media has been used to help or compel business enterprises to advance towards sustainability. The first way is to help the public to grasp the meaning of environmental sustainability and to compel the businesses to adopt responsible environmentally friendly practices. There is need to create awareness on what environmental sustainability is and why it matters at all (Gordon Wilson 2010, p. 5). Through social media, companies have the perfect platform to reach as many consumes as possible. A social networking platform like Facebook has a membership greater than the population of any country in the world. With this vast access, the consumers can compel the organisations that are not environmentally friendly to adopt sustainable practices.
In a social media platform such as twitter, topics that have won the public eye and have amassed immense interest are trends. Whenever there is a trending topic, the attention of the virtual online community is towards that trend. There have been issues of environmental sustainability in the past that received tremendous social media attention and thanks to this attention, the business enterprises concerned were compelled to take fast action. One of these historical environmental sustainability issues is the air pollution in China (Samuel Kay 2014, p. 4). The public and climate activists in China have used social media platforms, especially Sina Weibo, to bring attention to the problem of chronic air pollution in China (Samuel Kay 2014, p. 4).
According to a research carried out at the Ohio state university, this online attention has compelled the Chinese government to take action in a bid to reduce the air pollution in china (Samuel Kay 2014, p. 4). For a long time, there has been thick fog covering some Chinese towns like Beijing and the government attributed this to dust. However, the reality was that industrial pollutants like PM2.5 caused this fog (Samuel Kay 2014, p. 1). This issue premiered first in social media in the year 2008 when the United States embassy started making posts on its twitter page advising its workers on the air quality in the city. This topic got the attention of the Chinese online community who began to post their disappointment on Sina Weibo. This bore fruit eventually since the Chinese government acknowledged that there was indeed a pollutant PM2.5 and it started taking measures to reduce the industrial emissions that were responsible for the air pollution (Samuel Kay 2014, p. 1).
A second example of how social media has a role in exposing corporate practices that are not sustainable is the recent use of the Doritos’s Super Bowl ad campaign to expose the unsustainable practices by PepsiCo. The parody commercial highlighted how the company sources its palm oil; through a process that contributes to the destruction of rainforests. This kind of exposure instils fear into corporations and compels them to be sustainable in their business practices.
The second way in which social media is used to influence environmental sustainability is through the facilitation of communication. The actual steps taken towards sustainability and the awareness of the public about these steps determine the success of an efficient environmental sustainability program. It is of no use when a company invests towards environmental sustainability but the public is not aware of the steps taken towards environmental sustainability. This is because, in the modern times, the perception of the public concerning the environmental sustainability of a business enterprise also determines their willingness to purchase from the company. Therefore, it is necessary that these two go hand in hand to guarantee success of the business enterprise. According to a survey conducted by Cone Communications, 84% of consumers were of the opinion that the corporations must communicate their sustainability strategy to the consumers.
Communication is also relevant in the cases involving environmental disasters caused by the operations of a company. The communication helps to patch up of public trust in the business enterprise (Lee 2014, p. 284). This is essential because continued public support is essential to prevent future mishaps. While the company intends to communicate to the public on their programs geared towards environmental sustainability, it needs to do so in a way that it remains profitable (Wells 2013, p. 46). This is because expensive public awareness campaigns can be wasteful to the company resources in the end. The social media is an ideal medium in such cases. This is because, in most cases, the use of social media is free of any charges. The only thing that a company has to do is to generate online content and share it with the users of the social media platforms.
One of the historical applications of social media to communicate with the public during an environmental crisis time was after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill by the BP (Marcia W. DiStaso 2014, p. 112). The 2010 oil spill disaster is the worst in the United States petroleum history. The accidental oil spill resulted in the death of 11 workers and the spill continued for 87 days before capping of the well was successful. The spill had tremendous effect to the marine life of the Gulf of Mexico. There was massive loss of marine life. In addition, the incident tainted the BP Company’s image (Marcia W. DiStaso 2014, p. 112).
Before the incident, the BP Company sparingly used their social media accounts. However, following the incident there were countless tweets, Facebook posts and YouTube videos to communicate their efforts to the public (Marcia W. DiStaso 2014, p. 112). This helped to create awareness in among the public on the measures that the company was taking towards environmental sustainability. In addition to these measures, the BP Company embarked on a mission to buy search links. These links appeared first in the list when one searched for the information on the oil spill using the Google search engine. This ensured that the public was up to date and reduced the chances of a perception of negligence on part of the Company by the public (Marcia W. DiStaso 2014, p. 112).
Another example of a way social media is used to communicate and push the sustainability debate is the Earth Hour Campaign. The campaign, which started in 2007, is meant to raise awareness on climate change by encouraging people to switch off their lights from 8.30-9.30 pm on every last Saturday of the month of march. To date the over 162 countries participate in the yearly event that is promoted on social media. The campaign has been successful in creating awareness and crowdfunding for climate conservation activities. While the event is criticized as having a little impact because 60 minutes is not enough time to create meaningful impact, it has been successful in creating awareness and uniting the world in a pledge to reduce the impact on the environment.
The third way in which social media influences sustainability is that business enterprises use it to source ideas from the users of the social media platforms (Biggar 2010, p. 10). Social media facilitates real time communication and it has a wide user base. This resource is of great importance to the companies because the company can obtain useful information from the platforms on how to improve their sustainability efforts. The organisations that have incorporated social media in their sustainability programs can listen to their consumer base and obtain feedback. This feedback enables these organisations to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their sustainability programs. As a result, they can come up with the best solution from the feedback obtained. This novel approach to business solutions is crowd-sourcing (Biggar 2010, p. 10). It refers to the situation where an organisation seeks ideas from a huge demographic and applies them accordingly to its operations. This is a novel approach to environmental sustainability innovation and it uses social media (Hippel 2005, p. 15).
The 350.org campaign is one of the most successful social media campaigns that provide solutions for sustainability. Through such platforms, the public has a chance to participate in being part of the solution. The 350.org platform encourages the users to post messages on environmental sustainability and what they think is the best way to tackle the sustainability issues. This way, it creates a mine of information where companies can source solutions. Some organisations also have pages dedicated to the sharing of ideas on solutions to environmental sustainability. For instance, IBM through its smarter planet website communicates with social media users all over the world to share their experiences on environmental sustainability. In addition to this, social media platforms such as Facebook and twitter have a wealth of user data that can be analysed using the appropriate computer algorithms to help in environmental sustainability efforts (Biggar 2010, p. 8). Such data on consumer preferences is ideal in sourcing for solutions.
Challenges of using social media to influence environmental sustainability
One of the challenges experienced when using social media as a tool for environmental sustainability is the government and business enterprises sabotaging the efforts by the users of the social media. For instance, when the Chinese online community petitioned the government on the quality of air in China, the government opened loads of fake accounts in order to sway the discussion towards their desired trajectory. According to a study done at the Ohio state university, of all the accounts that posted posts on Sina Weibo related to the air pollution, 80% originated from government sources (Samuel Kay 2014, p. 6). This sabotage masked the real concerns. While it takes many resources to distort online conversations in this way, it is a challenge to the social media users with genuine concerns to voice about environmental sustainability. This online noise is undesirable as it can rise above the genuine concerns by the users of the social media.
In addition, while they are effective in raising awareness levels, social networks also breed slacktivism. This refers to the act of being vocal on social media concerning climate change and sustainability but doing nothing about it. With some social media platforms like Facebook, the success is measured using the number of likes or comments generated by a post. However, this does not prove that anything substantial has been done.
While there have been a myriad of challenges and drawbacks, social media has been successful to compel business enterprises to reduce their impact on the environment. There is increased awareness on the need for environmental sustainability. The companies are also more responsible because they know that the public is watching and no corporation wants to be trending on social media for the wrong reasons. The social media is an appropriate platform for exerting pressure on irresponsible corporations to be environmentally sustainable. The effectiveness of the social media as a tool of environmental sustainability is attributable to the fact that it acts as a link between the expectations of the consumers and the strategic plan of the companies.
In conclusion, the social media is an effective platform for petitioning the government and pressuring corporations to reduce their impact to the environment. Social media does this by empowering the public to understand what environmental sustainability is and what the role of the corporations is in ensuring environmental sustainability. The enlightened public is at a better position to petition the corporations that are not environmentally sustainable. Secondly, social media provides a platform to the corporations to communicate with the consumers and inform them on the steps they are taking towards environmental sustainability. Studies have shown that the consumers need this information. Finally social media is used to source for ideas by the business enterprises on environmental sustainability. This way, the social media is the perfect tool for ensuring environmental sustainability.
List of references
Biggar, J. (2010). Crowdsourcing For The Environment:The Case of Brighter Planet. PLATFORM: Journal of Media and Communication Vol 2 Issue 2 , 8-23.
CONE Communications . (2012). Consumers Demand More Than CSR “Purpose”. Boston: CONE Communications .
earthhour.org. (2015). Earth Hour. Retrieved January 4, 2015, from http://www.earthhour.org/
EPA. (2015). What is sustainability? Retrieved February 3, 2015, from http://www.epa.gov/sustainability/basicinfo.htm
Fuchs, C. (2013). Social Media: A Critical Introduction. SAGE Publications.
Gordon Wilson, P. F. (2010). Environment, Development, and Sustainability: Perspectives and Cases from Around the World. Oxford University Press.
Hippel, V. E. (2005). Democratizing Innovation. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Lee, I. (2014). Integrating Social Media into Business Practice, Applications, Management, and Models. IGI Global.
Marcia W. DiStaso, D. S. (2014). Ethical Practice of Social Media in Public Relations. Routledge.
Melville, N. P. (2010, March). INFORMATION SYSTEMS INNOVATION FOR ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY. MIS Quarterly Vol. 34 No. 1 , pp. 1-21.
Samuel Kay, B. Z. (2014). Can Social Media Clear the Air? A Case Study of the Air Pollution Problem in Chinese Cities. The Professional Geographer , 1-12.
sumofus.org. (2015). Retrieved January 4, 2015, from http://action.sumofus.org/a/pepsico-palm-oil/
Wells, G. (2013). Sustainable Business: Theory and Practice of Business Under Sustainability Principles. Edward Elgar Publishing.