At the Fortune: Brainstorm Green conference in Laguna Niguel, Calif., executives from top companies touting sustainable efforts acknowledged the importance of social media in engaging green consumers.
“We’re using social, financial and educational currency to get as many people involved,” said Jonathan Hsu, CEO of Recyclebank, a company that rewards consumers for not only recycling curbside, but also learning more about green actions and pledging online to improve their green habits.
For companies that today would be considered pros at communicating their sustainable efforts, it wasn’t always easy.
“There was a five-year period there where we weren’t sure how to deal with this space [...] We ignored a lot of it,” said Bea Perez, chief sustainability officer for Coca-Cola. “We tried to collect it and assess it, but not deal with those individuals.”
Since then, Coke launched successful social campaigns, including a donation program in late 2011 that protected some 500,000 square miles of polar bear habitat in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund. As a result of the campaign, which included a myriad of social components, 1.4 million donations were made by consumers, while 600,000 shared the message and asked others to get involved, according to Perez.
New social campaigns to encourage green actions are also in the works. Recently, organic tea bottler Honest Tea announced a campaign to crowd-source recycle more than 45,000 plastic, glass and aluminum beverage containers in 10 hours in New York City. The plastic bottles collected will be recycled into gardening supplies including shovels, watering cans and plastic lumber, which will be used to build and cultivate an urban garden for PS 102, an elementary school in Harlem.
Those who cannot attend the event in Times Square will have an opportunity to participate in “The Great Recycle” online and make a recycling pledge – and then solidifying it by recycling an old Facebook post.
Efforts like these not only rally communities and drive behavioral change, such as increasing recycling, but provide consumers with opportunities to connect with companies in a transparent way. “It’s incumbent on every company that wants to engage with [consumers] to give them the good, bad and the ugly,” said Hsu.