Sustainability and social media

Nowadays, consumer relationships with brands and companies are not all that different to relationships with people.

Some are about caring… others are in your life because you need them. Think about Steve Jobs. Idol, guru, a source of inspiration, but also a cold-hearted and bizarre businessman; his death was commented with an impressive participation by the whole world, his "stay hungry, stay foolish" became an idiomatic pop motto. He was (or is in fact) the face of Apple. People felt very involved in all the smart-genius-corporate-story-thing.

But not all relationships have the same commitment and the same energy. Thanks to social media, we are more directly related to big companies who tell us their stories. This exchange can actually make us feel we have more power in our hands and, more than anything, the ability to balance this sort of engagement in our favour in order to attract companies’ attention, to force them to apply more stringent ethical codes or simply to fulfill the promises they have made.

We, the famous "Millennials" represent $2.45 trillion in spending power and 70% of us will spend more on brands supporting causes they care about (1). No wonder Corporate Social Responsibility has become a considerable priority. Words such as “purpose, authenticity, trust and transparency” are the four cornerstones of current corporate communication.

A closer look at the “6th Annual Social Media Sustainability Index(2)” returns to us the feeling of time. This research brings together 283 companies that have dedicated their efforts to communicating their sustainability programs on social media in the best way: of these 283, the top 100 have been ranked. I will examine the first ten classified in depth. These are the most interesting in demonstrating their commitment to environmental and societal responsibility.

10. CVS

CVS is an American retailer and health care company: in February 2014 they announced they would discontinue the sale of all tobacco and cigarette products from their stores - a business that brought in $2 billion a year. As CEO Larry J. Merlo said, "we came to the decision that cigarettes and providing health care just don't go together in the same setting.(3)"

CVS built a dedicated website to house all of the assets directly related to the announcement: articles, videos, images, contacts, motivational stories. This hub provides links to ask advices from a pharmacist to arrange an “offline” visit.

CVS, prodotti farmaceutici

9. Microsoft

Microsoft is interested in tech savvy and bright people who will be running the world in a decade, so they've founded YouthSpark, "a global initiative to increase access for all young people to learn computer science, enabling them to achieve more for themselves, their families and their communities (4)".

They have become partners with schools, non-profit associations, parents and teachers to teach young people how to use, but especially how to create, technology.



8. H&M

There are so many reasons for loving the Swedish colossus H&M, first of all because it's cheap and chic. As a fast fashion company, its affordability allows an on-going personal transformation on a mass-market level. But all this consumerism has its consequences: the Rana Plaza massacre is an open wound...

Following this tragedy, H&M chose to promote the recycling of clothes as the only rule to follow in fashion. It created a campaign starring unconventional models to encourage the breaking of all the fashion taboos, except sustainability, which becomes a trend.

Customers can take a bag of used clothes to a store and exchange it for a voucher. The clothes are then either reused or turned into new clothes.



People know about Philips mostly for the B2C side of the business: lamps, tvs and stereos. In reality, 70 percent of Philips' business comes from the B2B market: they have a fundamental role in the healthcare industry.

The "Innovation and You" campaign talks about what the company is doing to make a meaningful difference in people's lives. In this particular case, they bring together 18 people with breathing diseases and have them sing at Harlem's Apollo Theatre.

The video is breath taking, watch here.


Aetna is the third-largest US health insurer and Mr. Bertolini, its CEO, wants to make it clear that he is different to other CEOs. His experience with chronic pain has led him to strive for alternative treatment methods. The philosophy of Bertolini, and Aetna itself, is to take care of mental health which is closely connected to physical health: as the ancient Latin used to say, "mens sana in corpore sano" still works. The CEO has promoted free yoga lessons for all of its employees, meditation and quality sleep. In January 2016 they launched a campaign, #Mindful30 which, thanks to the contribution of bloggers, helps create awareness about mind health and what can be done to improve it every day.



Parents want what's best for their kids, and General Mills wants to satisfy them by removing artificial ingredients from its cereals. Bad colors and flavors aren’t what you are looking for in your bowl, so they are now committed to doing what's best for children. They set up a campaign in which they stand from the parents' side as the company is a family authority itself. Sharing (concern) is caring.

General Mills


Grocery retail giant Sainsbury’s has teamed up with Google to launch a tool that will help reduce food waste in Britain. Waste less and save more - it's what’s best for your wallet and it helps raise awareness about a big consumer problem. They attract all the attention with funny and  engaging videos on Facebook, "families are savvier than ever, looking for practical help to make the most of the food in their cupboards and fridges: shopping habits have really changed (5),” said Sainsbury’s marketing director Sarah Warby.




Patagonia clothes aren't renowned for their cheapness, but the brand goes to great lengths to make sure people are aware of the value of its products. The Californian company published a campaign entitled "Worn Wear", where it underlines how each item we wear brings a story and this story has to last. As they wrote, “One of the most responsible things we can do as a company is to make high-quality stuff that lasts for years and can be repaired: the Worn Wear program celebrates the stories we wear and keeps your gear in action longer to take some of the pressure off the planet (6)”: definitely an alternative but a winning way to be sustainable.




The multinational Unilever, second place in this ranking, is on the podium for a number of different campaigns. Many brands that accompany our daily life belong to this giant which has recently begun to promote the corporate brand through advertising too. The purpose of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) is to double the size of the business while halving its environmental footprint by 2020, and by halving they mean reducing (but it's still a big deal). Perhaps the most famous and impressive campaign of all, especially for the buzz and virality on social media, is the Dove one which promotes natural beauty and a non-stereotyped portrayal of women.



The purpose of this index was to address the qualitative relationship between companies and social media and it comes as no surprise that at the end of this article we find a company that uses Snapchat with confidence and creates an Emoji Periodic Table of Experiment.

Their campaigns are absolutely brilliant: their efforts, (comparable to those of Microsoft - 9th in this ranking) are all concentrated on making science more engaging for students. They created #6secondscience which featured experiments on Vine and #Springbreakit to test advanced materials (how materials melt, shatter and bend). The periodic table made by Emoji breaks the internet with something really contemporary: as Sydney Lestrud, global brand marketing manager for General Electric said, "we try very hard to just pay attention to what our audience or community is already doing — how they're already communicating; we look at the platforms or social channels where they already are or where they're tending to migrate to. So for us, we are always very interested in what's next and what's around the corner.(7)"

Good job, GE!



(1)source: AMA

(2) Sustainly

(3)  The Atlantic

(4) Microsoft

(5) Sainsbury's

(6) Patagonia

(7) Campaignalive GE

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