Exploring social media as a driver of sustainable behaviour: case analysis and policy implications

D. Langley, T. van den Broek

Research output: Contribution to ConferencePaperAcademic


This paper describes an empirical study into the emerging effects of instantly\navailable social media on collective environmentally sustainable behaviour. The\nfirst contribution to the literature is a model whereby social media is positioned as\na means to overcome two important barriers to collective environmentally\nsustainable behaviour. The first barrier can be called fatalism, or a lack of belief\non the part of potential participants that the sustainability initiative will have a\nsignificant impact. This study hypothesizes that social media can help overcome\nthis barrier by presenting evidence to potential participants of the initiative’s goals\nand achievements as well as by helping participants to share this information with\npotential participants in their own social networks. The second barrier is termed\nbusyness, whereby the favourably disposed majority cannot permit themselves the\ntime and energy needed to turn their attitude into behaviour. The second\nhypothesis is that social media can stimulate these people to take action by\nreducing the effort required to act and by helping participants to share their\nexperiences with each other. These mechanisms are related to two outcomes: the\nscale of participation and the impact achieved by the initiative. The second\ncontribution to the literature is an empirical investigation of the relationships\nbetween the aforementioned social media mechanisms and outcomes, whereby\nmore than 30 relevant social media applications are analysed. Initial results show\nthe strong influence of presenting evidence of the group’s goals and achievements\nto potential participants on the scale of participation. A third contribution of this\npaper is to translate the effects of social media enabled collective behaviour into\npolicy implications. This study shows that social media can enable a disruptive\nforce that may affect the power balance between market, government and\nconsumer groups. For these three parties we discuss the implications of this\nchanging power balance.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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