Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Social Media, Sustainability and Green Supply Chain

Social Media has been in part responsible for huge political changes like the ones in the Arab world, has helped shaped huge election campaigns (Barack Obama), and at a micro level changed the way we interact with friends and family.

All these changes have a fundamental common factor that makes social media unique and more important than any other media form - It puts us all on the same space. There is no hierarchy, caste, class or status that stops your voice from being heard.

While social media has caused so many changes for good, can it also provide the solution for a big problem facing mankind today? Can social media drive sustainability?

Social Media has been effectively used by environmental activist organizations such as Green Peace that have successfully managed to garner support for causes against environmentally irresponsible behavior of many large organizations. Their methods although have been high handed but they've managed to make a dent. However it needs to be noted that changes in organizational practices due to such movements have been reactive owing to social pressure created by their efforts.

Pro-active efforts of organizations in last few years has been encouraging. Yeomans at The Guardian reports that "Indeed, in 2010, when we first published this (Social Media Sustainability) index, just 60 companies had dedicated social media channels to talk about sustainability. By 2011 that number had doubled. For 2012, we found 176 major companies around the world that had allotted dedicated resources and social media channels to their sustainability dialogue."

The SMI-Wizness Social Media sustainability index has found that companies have used editorials to communicate sustainability, and also used games, apps, and maps in their social media sustainability efforts. The good thing is that sustainability has also been employee making the campaigns more engaging and human.

As this planet faces the heat of dwindling resources there is a need for a pro-active in moving towards sustainability. One such way has been the path of Green Supply Chain. Winston at Harvard notes that "while the greening of the supply chain has been in the works for decades, the movement has really taken off in 2010."

Prof. Samir K. Srivastava in his review of Green Supply-Chain Management has defined it as "integrating environmental thinking into supply-chain management, including product design, material sourcing and selection, manufacturing processes, delivery of the final product to the consumers as well as end-of-life management of the product after its useful life".

Breakdown of social media sustainability initiatives
(Source: SMI-WIZNESS report)
Social Media can act as a channel to integrate product disposition with the organization. A company can connect with its customers on social media to integrate their disposition of product with their supply chain. This can be particularly effective in the case of durable products. Also, this reduces raw material costs and has the potential to increase loyalty by adding a touch point.

A customer planning to buy a new mobile (and dispose the existing one) can be reached by a mobile manufacturing company. With short product life-cycles with mobiles and the problem of e-waste, this strategy can be effective.

Another approach can be to integrate with the broad objective of re-cycling. Levi's has done this effectively and announced a new product line called as Waste<Less. MNN reports that Waste<Less Denim Collection will be made from a minimum of 20 percent post-consumer recycled waste.

Social Media sustainability initiatives are right now being led by U.S. and Europe respectively. This is one area where emerging economies like India and China need to catch up. Having huge consumption potential, an early beginning can give organizations in emerging economies a good competitive advantage as well.