Brand Sustainability Communications Lacking on Facebook, Study Finds

Brand Sustainability Communications Lacking on Facebook, Study Finds

Only 40 percent of 195 multinational consumer goods brands in a new study are communicating about their sustainability efforts on Facebook, and just four companies are doing half of the talking, according to research from Sustainly.

Half of the Facebook discussion about sustainability happens on pages managed by McDonald’s, Dove, Coca-Cola and Nescafe, Matthew Yeomans, founder of the UK research firm, reported at Sustainable Brands in San Diego.

“We’ve got a failure to communicate on a brand level,” said Yeomans. “Time and time again, on a brand level, companies are nervous about talking about sustainability.”

Reasons for reluctance to engage on topics of CSR and sustainability vary, but Yeomans said common excuses are that the topics underperform versus other content, or that they get in the way of a brand storyline.

Despite the challenges on Facebook, there are myriad examples of extremely successful brand outreach in social over the past year.  Yeomans detailed his favorites at Sustainable Brands:


IBM used Tumblr to reach “infographic geeks” with sustainability. “They understand that it’s a visual medium that gets shared quickly so they pack it with all the infographics they have,” Yeomans said of the Smarter Planet IBMblr site.


Dove used Snapchat to address the topic of female self-esteem in a way Yeomans said was confessional while protecting the anonymity of participants.  

Dove’s parent, Unilever, produced Project Sunlight and successfully told the story through social. “It showed a real commitment to share sustainability at a brand level,” Yeomans said.


Nike’s “Making of Making” app provided an extraordinary amount of insight into how its products are made, though not focusing explicitly on sustainability. “They talk about the success of design and innovation,” said Yeomans. “Sustainability is already built into their products.”


Chipotle produced the Scarecrow movie and mobile app in an attempt to “stick it to McDonalds and the other fast food chains,“ said Yeomans.  While acknowledging the multi-channel effort was “brilliant,” Yeomans said it overreached and had the unintended detrimental effect of prompting activists to delve into Chipotle’s own supply chain.


McDonald’s got credit from Yeomans a “very impressive, ballsy and kind of scary” initiative to answer consumer questions about its supply chain. “Our Food, Your Questions” involved live Facebook chats answered by McDonald’s food scientists in real-time. 


An experiential “Pedaling Happiness” installation on California’s Venice Beach earned a mention from Yeomans for creativity in real life and in social.  Users who rode the bike-like contraption for 23 minutes – the time it takes for a 140-pound adult to burn the calories in a can of Coke – were rewarded with a free drink. “It’s a very tricky thing to talk about the impact sugar has on your body while also trying to sell your product,” said Yeomans.


GE overcame a challenge faced by many B2B brands when it commissioned a Philadelphia techno DJ to create the soundtrack for “Over 2 Million Containers, 2,000 Routes,” a YouTube video espousing the environmental benefits of intermodal transport.  “You’ve got to be creative even when they topic isn’t,” said Yeomans who added that the video featuring GE client CSX had been viewed more than 330,000 times.


The British supermarket giant Sainsbury’s Food Rescue app, created with help from Google, reduce food waste by making better use of leftovers.


Using the virtual reality platform Oculus Rift, now owned by Facebook, the British gas and electric utility EDF Energy launched a campaign to promote to its employees the benefits of not using disposable plastic water bottles, traveling by rail instead of air, and reducing the number of pages printed.


Volkswagen’s “Eyes on the Road” ambush of Hong Kong movie theater patrons, who were watching a car driving on the big screen when they simultaneously received a text message on their phones.  In the few seconds it took theatergoers to check their phone, the car on the screen crashed, providing a vivid example of the dangers of texting while driving.


AT&T’s driver safety program aimed at curbing the use of mobile devices while behind the wheel.  “AT&T has done it brilliantly here with ‘It Can Wait,’” Yeomans said.


(Photo: Sustainly founder Matthew Yeomans at Sustainable Brands)