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From Knowledge Sharing to Greenwashing: The Role of Social Media in Promoting Sustainability

by Sangita Iyer | 10.04.2023

With climate change looming over us, sustainability has become a major concern in recent years. What’s more, social media has played a critical role in fostering conversations around this topic. Social media platforms provide a space where people can share ideas, voice their concerns, and connect with others who are also passionate about sustainability. This helps to elevate discussions on the topic, bringing it to the forefront of people’s feeds and making it a more visible issue while people are scrolling through content. 

Instagram as a platform is constantly evolving, much like any other social media. Now, audiences on the platform use short videos or Reels to promote content that explains complicated issues more easily. One industry that gets a lot of focus is fashion, with many of the users on the platform talking about its sustainable practices. Fashion revolution is just one example that spotlights how the industry contributes to climate change. The hashtag #SustainableFashion alone is used in over 17.9 million posts (and counting). 

Another example is Earthrise, a well-known page on Instagram that posts about planet and climate action. They used New York Fashion Week as an opportunity to showcase the amount of waste generated by the industry with this interesting Reel quiz.


One of the ways social media has helped promote sustainability is by allowing brands to share their knowledge and experiences with a wider audience – an audience who use the platform to engage with their peers and favourite celebs. So now, you can talk to people from the US about sustainability efforts taking place in Rwanda or Ethiopia, for example.

As sharing knowledge becomes easier, so does putting it into practice on a day-to-day basis. It also builds awareness among more people of different age groups and backgrounds. Climate action also begins with a change in habits. What we learn from social media can help fuel changes in such habits.

Brands Using Social Media to Talk About Sustainability

Social media has played a vital role in promoting sustainability. Brands like Patagonia, Adidas, and Starbucks have used social media to inform customers about their sustainability efforts. These brands have used social media to share their sustainability reports, showcase sustainable products, and encourage followers to take part in sustainable practices.

Brands also participate in powerful social media campaigns. One example of this are the campaigns encouraging people not to shop during Black Friday, and how mass consumerism can harm the planet. This campaign was supported by brands and many individuals who posted about the problems with #BlackFriday. Patagonia even made a post about their Black Friday workshops to help customers repair and upcycle their products.

Many brands have taken a stand on sustainability and climate change. These brands have used social media to communicate their sustainability efforts and encourage their followers to take part in sustainable practices. For example, Nike launched its “Move to Zero” campaign, which aims to achieve zero carbon emissions and zero waste across its supply chain. The campaign was promoted on social media platforms, and Nike encouraged its followers to take part in the initiative.

However, while social media has become a great platform for brands to talk about sustainability, issues have arisen from this. There’s a strong issue with ‘greenwashing’ that’s surfacing time and again on social media. This is where consumers are encouraged to be more vigilant. 

What is Greenwashing? And How Can Brands Avoid Doing It?

Greenwashing is a marketing tactic used by some brands to make their products appear more environmentally friendly than they actually are. Brands must do their research and look at competitors to better understand what to do and what not to do. Brands should also explore well-informed climate activists on social media to better understand how they can actually speak about their sustainable practices on the platform. Consumers value transparency, especially when it comes to sustainability. This can help them see if a brand’s values align with their own.

How Brands Should Approach Sustainability on Social Media?

When approaching this topic, brands should publish authentic content about their sustainability efforts. It might also be useful to promote the related efforts of their employee and senior leadership. A more informative post about why and how the brand is sustainable. Overall, content should have less jargon and more authentic, insightful information which helps the audience to learn more about sustainability. Cut through the noise and create a space for more valuable, sustainable knowledge sharing.