Social media drives era of ‘soft sustainability’

This is the era of 'soft sustainability'. That's the key finding of a new report which ranks how well companies spread their sustainability message on social media.

The report, from consultancy firm Sustainly, claims that companies are recognising that sucessful sustainability goals are ones that resonate with the public.

Therefore they are starting to communicate about their initiatives on a level that the public understands, which is known as ‘soft sustainability’. It goes on to say that getting customers on-side over sustainability issues is crucial to business survival and growth. 

The report says that as social media has grown, so has public awareness of climate change, concerns about food quality and production, and the issues of energy and waste. Companies have had to utilise social media to defend themselves from ‘real time reputation attacks’, and forced them to acknowledge that the way they treat customers can have serious reputational impacts.

Creative Communication

The Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant Unilever is named by the index as the world’s best company at communicating its sustainability efforts on social media following a vast improvement in recent years. The company, whose 400-plus brands include Dove, Surf, Knorr and Hellman’s, barely registered in the top 50 in 2011 and 2012, and only broke into the top 10 in 2013.

Unilever is now communicating usefully and creatively through a variety of brands and its main corporate voice,” said the report’s lead author, Matthew Yeomans. “It is one of a number of companies who have realized the importance of communicating sustainability issues to the public as well as investors, NGOs and the media.”

Intel is second in the rankings, with Coca-Cola Company third, followed by Philips, McDonald’s, Sainsbury’s, IBM, Procter & Gamble, General Electric, and Danone rounding out the top ten.

Social media engagement

Sustainly has seen an overall increase in the number of companies choosing to engage customers via social media. This year it found 273 companies that have some form of dedicated social media sustainability efforts – an increase from 230 in 2013, 176 in 2012 and a marked improvement from the 120 of 2011.

Yeomans said: “Many companies are now using social media in some form to communicate about sustainability. But too many companies make the mistake of talking about what they think is important rather than understanding the interests and passions of their social media community.”

Soft sustainability in action:

Lucinda Dann

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