Can Social Media Really Help Make a Difference for the Environment?

Mat McDermott/CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Social media is applauded as a means of engaging crowds, creating change and encouraging action. To see where the perception of social media’s power originated, we need only to look at the pivotal role it played in political events such as the Arab Spring and Green Revolution in Iran. Not to mention those here at home – think: #occupy.

Social media certainly helps spread the word, but does it mean that less people are actively participating in events? While the actual news can spread like wildfire across the Internet, do as many people get off the couch or get up from their desk to follow through on the things they “like” or “share”?

I’m wondering how much “good” social media can really do for the environment. If someone clicks “Like” on TerraCycle’s Facebook page, or retweets a Treehugger.com tweet, that’s fantastic. But it doesn’t take down our carbon output or bring back a demolished forest.

I love seeing the good social media is doing – don’t get me wrong. It’s a large part of TerraCycle’s initiatives, and same goes for many other companies. Check it out:

    • Twitter parties: Meredith’s Family Fun magazine and TerraCycle will be hosting a Twitter party on Friday, April 20th, featuring Sara Snow and Danny Seo in order to give green tips, facts, prizes, DIYs, and other ways for families to learn how to have fun and go green.

    • Facebook pledges: Honest Tea is holding the Great Recycle in Times Square on April 30th. They’re hoping to collect at least 45,000 beverage containers at the event. For those who can’t be there, Honest has a Facebook pledge in which you “recycle” one of your last hundred Facebook posts.

    • Facebook games:Trash Tycoon helps kids learn how to recycle and upcycle via a social game that donates 10% of all in-game dollars spent to carbonfund.org.

    • Recyclebank has been very successful in driving environmental pledges through online gamification.

    I’m just concerned here that just because someone hits “Like” doesn’t mean they’ll take action in reality. Just because they pledge to do something because they get a discount, doesn’t mean they’ll follow through. Games like Trash Tycoon andFreerice.com do have a real-world component: donations to charities and non-profits. But what about when there’s no guarantee of solid social action other than the conversation on the Internet?

    Social media can be a fun, virtually interactive way to substantial awareness, but the true threat is that people will think retweeting or clicking “Like” will be enough. Social media is best used as a “nudge” in the right direction – inspiring behavior, spreading positive ideas and helping to spawn change in the real world. It’s bad and ineffective when people find gratification solely by tapping that “Like” icon – because that “Like” in most cases, won’t do anything but display your time spent on the computer.

  • Tags: Games | Recycling | Social Media