Social Media Improves Sustainability?

In an article that kicks off by cramming in a dizzying glut-fest of as many marketing buzzwords as possible, Ethical Corporation have written an interesting piece about how social media appears to be driving sustainability in big business these days.

If you can wade your way through the jungle of marketing terms such as brand managers, brand transparency, brand value leadership, brand gatekeepers, strategic differentiation and brand equity, there's an interesting look at how the world appears to be changing in the light of social media.

What this new episode boils down to is that we seem to be seeing a transformation in business as we see greater transparency through social media.
Kit Kat Killers
One great example of transparency resulting from social media is how Kit Kat slapped a Fairtrade logo on its products, an act of blatant greenwashing, conning consumers into thinking Kit Kat was a responsible brand and appealing to ethical consumers.

But, back in 2010, when Greenpeace accused Nestlé, owners of the Kit Kat brand, of duplicity the eyes of the world then focused on Nestlé, their products and the "little green lies" they told.

Kit Kat products are made using palm oil and, without sustainable sourcing, the demand for palm oil causes deforestation. Deforestation for palm oil, in Indonesia for instance, destroys the habitats of Oran-utangs, and Oran-utangs are an endangered species. How could a popular global product boast "Fairtrade" credentials when its drive for profits were guilty of destroying forests, and killing threatened species in Indonesia? (See the Greenpeace feature on palm oil)

So Greenpeace went on a crusade against Nestlé and Kit Kat, rebranding the product Nestle Killer. Particularly effective, was Greenpeace' hard-hitting Give the Oran-utang a Break campaign.

The social media campaign from Greenpeace had an instant impact with an increase in some very negative (buzzword alert!) brand awareness. The word spread far across twitter, when I was watching it at the time, and I remember how Nestlé and Kit Kat got a good public kicking with a sustained burst of activity from angry twitter users.

What the Ethical Corporation article failed to mention was the actual result. Written by a brand marketing professional the piece went on to describe how brand managers could, er, better manage their brands under the scrutiny of a world eager to prevent further lies, damn lies and greenwash.

The global Swiss brand published a press release announcing Nestlé open forum on deforestation, Malaysia. This was as a direct result to the Greenpeace campaign to which they closed on their own announcement Sweet success for Kit Kat campaign: you asked, Nestlé has answered. Nestlé also became a member of the Roundtable for Responsible Palm Oil.
Nike? Transparency?
The other "example" of social media driving greater transparency and sustainability, about Nike, is a bit weak. In fact it's more of a brand-boosting piece about how Nike are using environmentally-friendly rubber and helping a few homeless people. It's basically more about Nike's Public Relations crusade than anything about transparency, sustainabilty and social media.

A global company as big as Nike should be doing far more than focusing on just two issues and then milking them for all they're worth. As a "concerned citizen" their policy really doesn't make the grade. You've only got to look at our piece last month on Big Brands Polluting Rivers in China. Whilst Nike allegedly restrict the use of hazardous chemicals in their manufacturing process, their suppliers are still pumping out polluted waste water. Nike are, by association, still contributing to the problem by continuing to source from suppliers who fail to clean up.
In Conclusion
The Greenpeace social media campaign is the only one that's forced any transparency. If anyone has any further examples of how social media is forcing transparency and sustainability onto global corporations then I'd be happy to add them to the list.

Other examples of the power of social media in bringing about positive change are the "Arab spring" where the government of Egypt was toppled in a social movement, part-powered by social media.

But that's not all about what sustainability is about is it?

Transparency should be applied to all brands, businesses and corporations, all their products. Everything they do should be sustainable from the source materials they use, to the energy they consume, and to the way they run their offices, make their goods, ship them to the public and how the products are dealt with after the end of their life.

In short, the complete product lifecycle and the institutions behind them need to look at every single process and make them ALL  environmentally-friendly, carbon-neutral, ethically-sourced, socially-responsible and utterly transparent.

It's NOT about all the things that marketers and brand managers, at the end of the food chain, can do to seem in touch with their products. It's about a grass roots culture of making EVERYTHING go green so that processes do not need to be fixed at the tips and go backwards but from the root, from the source. Only then will everything else fall into place.

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