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Can Social Media Influence Companies To Adopt Sustainable Practices?

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Tuesday August 24th, 2010 | 6 Comments

Social media changes our lives, but can it convince companies to implement sustainable practices? The Twitterer @NoBagLunch launched a campaign to get the fast food chain, Chipotle Mexican Grill to stop asking customers if they want a paper bag with their meal. A recent blog post by Adam Werbach, CEO of consulting firm, SaatchiS included the Twitter conversation between @ChipotleTweets and @NoBagLunch. Werbach says that within minutes of tweeting, ‘Bob’ of @ChipotleTweets responded saying he would “run the idea upstairs.” Werbach, who retweeted @NoBagLunch’s tweets about Chipotle, pointed out that in “a few minutes, a potential audience of over 50,000 people saw the call to action from @NoBagLunch.”

Although Chipotle has yet to make an announcement that it will stop offering its customers paper bags by default, the response by Bob of @ChipotleTweets is promising. Chipotle’s response to the Twitter campaign stands in contrast with Nestle’s response to the Greenpeace campaign last spring to get the company to use sustainable palm oil suppliers. Greenpeace launched a media campaign on Facebook and YouTube to basically shame Nestle into using sustainable palm oil suppliers.

Nestle, one of the largest food and drink companies in the world initially deleted posts and threatened trademark infringement. After two months of the campaign, Nestle announced in May that it is partnering with Forest Trust to find sustainable sources that do not contribute to rainforest deforestation.

Perhaps the fact that Chipotle is a “leader in sustainability,” as a 2009 Triple Pundit post put it, is the reason for the positive response to the Twitter campaign. Consider what company spokesperson, Chris Arnold, told Triple Pundit about Chipotle, “We don’t have a sustainability initiative. All we do is ingrained in the way we run the business.” In other words, sustainability is part of the company’s fabric.

Nine years ago Chipotle switched to pork from naturally raised pigs. Arnold said, “We had an epiphany that if you’re going to serve the best food, fresh is not enough, it’s just a starting point.”

Chipotle’s campaign, Food With Integrity is, according to Arnold “a philosophy that we can always do better in terms of the food we buy.” Arnold added, “And when we say better, we mean better in every sense of the word- better tasting, coming from better sources, better for the environment, better for the animals, and better for the farmers who raise the animals and grow the produce.”

As of 2009, 60 percent of beef Chipotle served at its restaurants came from naturally raised cows, 35 percent of beans  from organic farms, and 100 percent of chicken served from chickens raised without using antibiotics. Today, according to Chipotle’s website, 100 percent of pork served is from naturally raised pigs, 85 percent of beef comes from naturally raised cows, and 40 percent of beans are from organic farms.

The fast food chain’s website states that this year it plans to serve “at least 50 percent of at least one produce item from local farms when it is seasonally available (more than 50 percent and more than one item any time we can)…Those vegetables include romaine lettuce, red onions, green bell peppers, jalapeño peppers, and oregano.”

Based on the company’s sustainable practices, there is a good chance that Chipotle will start asking customers if they really need a bag. What do you think?


▼▼▼      6 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • http://www.cose.org/blog Tim Kovach

    Great article. I think there is a tremendous potential to use social media to promote sustainability and CSR efforts. Transparency and accountability lie at the heart of sustainability and CSR, and social media has opened up entirely new channels on these fronts. Businesses now have new sources of communication that they can use to interact directly with the public, and the public also has instant access back to the business. This two way system of communication tends to foster more open and frank dialogue that is necessary for the success of any sustainability or CSR program. No business can succeed and hope to earn the public’s trust entirely on its own; it needs these forms of communication, and social media is truly a great platform for this.

    – Tim Kovach,
    Product Coordinator for Energy at COSE
    http://www.cose.org/blog
    http://www.twitter.com/COSEenergy

  • Nick Aster

    Great Article Gina, and kudos to Chipotle for taking the time to respond. Good customer service is a very important part of sustainability that’s often overlooked!

  • http://www.facebook.com/dewita.soeharjono Dewita Soeharjono

    Good to know that Chipotle embedded their sustainability into biz practice. It’s also clever to use social media to build relationships, educate customers, etc. Kudos to them.

  • http://www.rumshopryan.com RumShopRyan

    I read this post because I saw the Chipotle logo. I love that place! I need a burrito right now!

  • http://www.gina-mariecheeseman.com Gina-Marie Cheeseman

    I wish more companies were like Chipotle! The idea of local sourcing (of food) is VERY appealing in light of the egg salmonella problem. Hopefully, Chipotle will serve as a model for the food system at large.

  • Pingback: What is sustainability? « Sustaintolive's Blog

  • Axie Barclay

    I’m just curious what they’ll offer in place of paper bags. Plastic? Oh yeah, let’s feed the oil monster. But social media does seem to have the ability to inform and influence on a scale never seen before. And if the consumer says this is what I want, the company, if it wants to make money, should listen. Good article.