Social Media

Social media: a weapon for sustainable development

social media ecology
Written by Pierrick LAMBERT

I have a keen interest in Digital transformation and Ecology which are two topics often opposed in people’s minds. From my point of view, Digital transformation, through social media and innovation is rather a fantastic opportunity for the environment. It can play a major role in preventing or resolving ecological crises.

Digital Consumers = Engaged Citizens 

One of the things to consider is the impact of Digital Communications on ecology. Highlighted by the French survey #Ethicity2016, over 70% of French people want to act positively for sustainable development and almost 80% consider that responsible consumption is a way to get involved in sustainability. In the age of digital communication, consumers act more and more as engaged citizens and look for information before buying a product or services.

The age of the empowered consumers

Social media plays an increasingly important role in this. Consumers do not rely on only one source of information but they mix several sources to find the most accurate information: they are going on Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, etc. And finally, they join communities to interact with people having experienced the product they would like to buy. As reported by the Deloitte consumer review “the growing power of consumers“, “for the majority of consumers; family and friends, consumer reviews and independent experts are the most trusted sources of information. Only around one in ten consumers find product manufacturers or service providers to be their most trusted source”.

Transparency is a ‘must have’ to survive

In the age of Digital disruption the challenge for businesses is to change their ways of talking to consumers who are more and more distrustful regarding information given by companies. Brands must interact with their audience and deliver qualitative content to retain their attention and gain trust. Qualitative also means being respectful towards your audience and transparent regarding your activity. As Brian Solis quoted in his article posted on DMU “Businesses Must Live by Radical Transparency to Gain Trust and Business of Customers”.

The rise of sustainable brands

Thanks to Digital media, transparency is not an option anymore if a brand wants to survive. That is why Digital has a positive effect on green companies offering eco-friendly products or services. For those companies, the digital media has offered a strong visibility as more and more people are looking for sustainability. Also, it is a wonderful opportunity for these brands to create content on sustainable development and ecological problems to inform and educate people. Before the Digital age, it was almost impossible for most of those companies to communicate on “standard media”, especially for financial reasons. The rise of social media has changed the order: social media cannot be monopolized, it is for everyone.

The end of traditional marketing

Many companies have understood the growing interest from consumers for ecological products and built marketing campaigns on this. But, before doing this, you must ensure that your products or services are aligned with what you are going to say. The “Mad Men” advertising age is over now, you must learn the new rules by listening to your consumers. Otherwise, it can be a nightmare and even the end of the game for some brands.

This can be highlighted by a first example from Lego.

Lego: the “everything is not awesome” Greenpeace greenwashing campaign

Lego had a partnership with Shell but at the same time, Lego was communicating on its eco-friendly attitude. Faced with this ambiguity, Greenpeace created a video denouncing the Lego Shell partnership.


The video has attracted almost 8 million views and generated a huge protest again Lego and Shell partnership. Following this Lego cancelled it.

It is also important to point out that Lego dealt well with social media during this negative campaign. They were transparent and open to discussion with their communities. Lego invests a lot of money developing ecological toys and expects that its pieces will be made with 100% sustainable material by 2030. The president and Chief Executive of LEGO, Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, stated, “As we expand globally, we are determined to leave a positive impact on society, and the planet that our children will inherit.”

Volkswagen’s Old Wives Tale campaign is the US

Another more recent example is Volkswagen with the diesel scandal. Just before the scandal, Volkswagen launched a social video campaign in the US named Volkswagen’s Old Wives Tale. This campaign aim was to discuss various misconceptions about diesel engines. This campaign was very successful (with over 1.5 million views on YouTube) thanks to an excellent “word-of-mouth” marketing strategy.


But, a few months after this campaign, the emissions scandal erupted and Volkswagen admitted publicly cheating in emission tests in the US. This scandal definitely stopped any hope of developing diesel in the US. On social media, the brand sentiment toward Volkswagen became extremely negative.

According to data from Networked Insights, an analytics software company based in Chicago, “83% of the emotionally-driven conversations currently mentioning Volkswagen on social media are negative. The Internet has reacted with increasing severity as the story has developed.”

We could even say the future of Volkswagen in the US is really uncertain.

This illustrates the shift of power implemented by the social media. Brands have to deal with empowered consumers and adapt their communication and even their products. As Brian Solis wrote in his article posted on DMU: “Customers want to do business with companies that match their beliefs and values. Customers are more aware and informed now. This means businesses must run counter to its normal practices, change and communicate this vision and changes in everything. With a more plugged-in understanding of human nature, businesses will not only create a happier and more productive culture: they will benefit from empowered employees, leading to an internal renaissance that yields new and innovative products, services, processes, and more.”

On this first article dedicated to Digital and Ecology, I wanted to emphasize the positive impact of social media on sustainable development and I have shown how leading individuals and companies promoting sustainable development have effectively used social media to communicate their aims and ideals. In my coming article on this topic, I will focus on the positive impacts of Digital innovations.

About the author


Pierrick LAMBERT