home » Enviro » Social sustainability kicks in

Social sustainability kicks in

Often sustainability is all about new technology or evolving science. But ways to alter human behaviour are potentially more important. How can social media alter tomorrow’s environmental landscape and energy needs?


Just as social media is revolutionising the conventional business world, there is also increasing scope for its role within a greener future society.

This is primarily because social media is never static, meaning non-stop tracking, communications, results and news-sharing are all available instantly. In a world where energy-[saving is becoming paramount, this is vital when it comes to 24h energy usage monitoring, or data flow on power fluctuations and which home appliances are guzzling the most gas.

Social media will never solve energy issues alone, but the point is without consistent information and debate, fewer people are even aware of how their behaviours impact from an energy standpoint. This is where modern media can step in to enable a far healthier, more informed conversation.

For example, www.ourfutureplanet.org is “An online community and think tank which aims to be the platform to create global change in the real world.” In more practical terms, the site offers networking and idea-sharing opportunities, for individuals who sign up for updates, debate and media information shared among members in much the same way as Facebook works.

Social media in the workplace

Equally, there are business media networking sites that also offer more complex environmental metric and life-cycle assessment tools to enable more complex shifts in business patterns, towards promising, sustainable low-energy futures. These include products like CloudApps, which offer, “Sustainability management software solutions, delivering the capabilities and innovation needed to integrate sustainability into the DNA of your organisation.”

This may sound a little like marketing spiel, but the actual potential of such businesses to contribute to low-carbon futures and national economies may presently be underestimated, in spite of historical dotcom bubble bursts and modern-day scepticism surrounding new web-based ideas. Simon Corley is Chief Financial Officer at CloudApps. How and why does he think social media is well placed to contribute to a shift towards a greener economy and more sustainable energy sourcing?

“Social media can bring something most of us like doing, socialising, together with activities we wish we did more of, such as fitness, or improving the environment,” he suggests. “Information and ideas spread rapidly via social media and better information, delivered by trusted sources, helps consumers make smarter, or greener, decisions.

“For energy users in the workplace, social media techniques empower workers to interact around green issues and can make the difference between management decisions around sustainable energy sources being upheld, or ignored, by workers in the business frontline,” Corley elaborates. “This is very much the thinking behind CloudApps’ Sustainability Momentum (SuMo) app which allows workers to get personalised sustainability footprints, suggest ideas and even compete as teams to produce real and measurable sustainability results.”

Driving customer loyalty and engagement

Corley goes to on to argue that for energy producers, another key benefit of social media is its ability to drive customer loyalty, retain customers and improve conversion of new customers. “One of the major benefits of encouraging sustainability initiatives is to enhance the brand perception of the suppliers,” he says.

“There have been many such initiatives by brands like UK FA Cup sponsor E.ON, which encouraged football supporters to consider the effect of following their sport nationwide, where the short-term loss of sales from reduced consumption is offset by other brand benefits.

“Social media is a very effective and cost-efficient mechanism of increasing awareness and feedback, is instant and normally honest,” he continues. “Whether an internal SuMo deployment or an external blog though, criticism and negative comments can flow as easily as praise. This makes social media an excellent ‘early warning system’ for negative customer sentiment.

“Brands who embrace this, accept their shortcomings and demonstrate both listening and responsiveness to customers will engage customers more. With a latent desire like sustainable energy sourcing, the transparency and customer engagement of social media makes such commitments both very visible and more worthwhile.”

Enabling the shift to more sustainable sourcing

Of course, whilst such perhaps less immediately measurable benefits like these will offer business wins, what actual sustainability metrics and calculations can the software offer? How can it enable to a shift to more sustainable sourcing for example?

“Software has been used for some time to keep tabs on carbon sustainability, largely to comply with regulations such as the UK Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) and the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP),” says Corley. “This is being widened to many other metrics now such as raw energy, water consumption, landfill and other resources such as volunteering hours.

“Software, such as CloudApps, can deliver sustainability footprints at corporate, departmental or individual level and offer results indexed against colleagues or external benchmarks as required. To ease the adoption of sustainable sourcing, it is important to understand what can be quite complicated calculations. CloudApps converts emissions measured in various different units into one ‘common currency’ which enables true comparisons to be made, even by inexperienced buyers or consumers.”

Certainly the variety of international criteria used to define sustainability, carbon costs or how greener products are labelled has plagued the green movement over the years. A tool which can bypass these elements would have many benefits, but must surely require some vastly complex methodology to inform meaningful and current comparisons and results?

“Social media can organise and aggregate consumer purchasing around particular issues,” counters Corley. “For example, if green energy is the issue around which consumers are focusing, then they can be aggregated to increase their purchasing power and incentivise the energy producer to address this issue to attract their business. Consumers can then select and reward the behaviour they want energy providers to adopt. It is a win/win/win, the consumer gets what she wants, the energy provider gets what it wants and the planet benefits too.”

Nonetheless, what actual guidelines is the software using to determine best environmental options? Where are these developed? And which NGO’s or scientific agencies endorse that the science used in the modelling is valid?

“CloudApps is compliant to CRC regulations in the UK and has achieved accreditation from the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), the world’s leading independent not-for-profit organisation collecting key corporate data for action on climate change,” says Corley.

“CDP Accredited Provider Approval means CloudApps has been selected as an operational partner of CDP and is part of a best-in-class group that strive to support a network of over 3000 companies across 60 countries, which measure and monitor their greenhouse gas and climate change strategies via the CDP.

“CloudApps’ status was confirmed following testing by the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute, whose team independently validated the accuracy of the carbon calculation engines embedded in the CloudApps Sustainability Suite.”

Looking to the future, what overarching change does Corley predict in terms of energy sourcing and how greener business is done?

“The move to sustainability with social media oversight will have a profound effect on how business is done. The sustainability and ethical claims of many brands around energy sourcing will be tested publicly and constantly and this data, alongside that published by monitoring bodies, will have far-reaching repercussions on brand success.

“Evidence of this is the clamour to become green, as seen by the record number of entries for The Sunday Times Green List and the perceived value that multinational companies such as Skandia, BT, RSA and Harper Collins receive from their association with such awards.”

Corley believes that over the next few years, attracting talent to companies with poor track records will become harder, while businesses with “less toxic” reputations will find life easier. “Contracts for suppliers are likely to become more stringent too, with clauses around compliance ruling out non-sustainable energy sources for brands concerned with their extended supply chain such as Marks & Spencer and Tesco,” he says.

“In the end, investors will factor in more risk to companies with no stance on sustainability for fear of becoming uncompetitive as talent and supplier preference means additional costs for those not well underway with sustainability.”

Pricing or customer demand?

Finally, what can be done to bring down the price of currently more expensive green options, such as greener energy or more sustainably sourced food? Ultimately, sustainable goods have to hit the right bottom-line to offer a long-term alternative solution.

“The price of products which observe the Triple bottom line of Economics, Environment and Social will never be as cheap as those which do not,” admits Corley. “So customer demand, not raw pricing, is the key.

“As one of the first companies to announce an environmental profit and loss account, sports brand  Puma discovered that its direct ecological impact of its operations equals to GBP6.2m and an additional GBP74.7m falls upon its entire supply chain. However the “bragging rights” of teenage consumers and the parents who fund their purchases will determine if the additional administration required is justified commercially.

“Poor sustainability is the latest in a long line of non-economic considerations that businesses need to pay attention to, most recently witnessed by the travails at News International. It is no longer culturally acceptable to buy gas guzzling cars, as Hummer’s demise proved, nor to treat staff poorly, as both Apple and Nike’s Converse have recently showed, and greener products which today are alternative are rapidly becoming the mainstream.”

Corley contends that corporate governance now requires firms to consider all their stakeholders, not just shareholders. “Using social media will cost effectively increase the overall size of the market a brand can address and it will grow your share of the market.

“Social media improves the communication and awareness of the efforts and initiatives you are making, encourages the engagement of all stakeholders and improve your organisation’s operational efficiency,” he concludes.

Certainly environmental social media has some way to go to catch up with its mainstream partners. But if anything the vibrancy and life behind today’s internet means millions of users can become involved within certain debate within hours. This very fact suggests that with the right kind of deployment, usage of social media within environmental circles might do far more, in far less time, than years of eco-campaigning since the early 1970s have achieved.


Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Mixx
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Blogplay
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter

No Responses

Leave a Reply

Make sure you enter the * required information where indicated.

You must be logged in to post a comment.