The case can be made that online community building activities support the three key areas of Sustainable Development:
Sustainable development is a pattern of resource use that aims to meet human needs while preserving the environment so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but in the indefinite future.
… The field of sustainable development can be conceptually broken into three constituent parts: environmental sustainability, economic sustainability and sociopolitical sustainability.
While I don’t propose that online communities can magically transform organizations into sustainability superstars, but I do think there is a case to be made that online communities can help support a more sustainable enterprise for many companies. Let’s take a look at each constituent category that makes up sustainable development:
As my colleague Jim Cashel pointed out in a post last year,
Online communities are green.
I believe that online community professionals should hook onto the “green” juggernaut, especially in three ways:
– Anyone involved with corporate green strategy should include an online community strategy;
– Anyone developing online community metrics should include carbon savings as an indicator;
– Anyone marketing online communities should speak to their “green” qualities.
I asked for examples (via Twitter) of communities focused on green and sustainable development issues, and John Kembel, CEO of HiveLive was kind enough to forward a couple of his favorite examples of Green / Sustainability communities:
See The Designers Accord — just written up in FastCompany
They just launched a community to start the conversation and to
promote sustainable design within the design community worldwide
(e.g., IDEO and others). Their website: http://designersaccord.org
and their brand new community: http://community.designersaccord.org
Ryan Martens (CTO of Rally — rallydev.com) is a strong proponent of
greening the software industry through Agile + Community. See
E.g., using community to directly engage customers and involve them in
the software dev process rids companies of the 60% wasted development
in most apps (mostly because the conversation between product manager
and customer isn’t tight enough). And they’re doing lots of things as
a company in addition to promoting agile and using community.
There are a few obvious (and myriad not so obvious) economic benefits to firms engaging in community building activities, from the proven cost-reduction of support forums to the idea generation of innovation communities like My Starbuck Idea and Dell’s Ideastorm. Online communities can be sources of tremendous value, and the value-creation happens in much more sustainable way (low environmental impact, source of value is easily replenished) than other processes like manufacturing of consumer goods.
3. Sociopolitical / Social Capital Development
The sociopolitical implications of online communities have inspired many an academic journal article, and the possible benefits range from a more transparent and representative government to supporting human rights worldwide. Online communities (and more generally, social media) allow for identity, sharing and connection at scales we haven’t previously seen. As the world becomes smaller by being more connected, the connected individual (arguably) becomes more empowered. Specific examples of the sociopolitical implications of online communities range from social capital created and exchanged via Facebook, the mix of social and real capital that support the developing world on Kiva.org, or the potential for change that many hope for with the beginings of Change.gov .
It’s Time to Consider Sustainability
The concept of thinking about online communities and social media through the lens of sustainable development is a nascent one, but given what is at stake, it’s one who’s time has come.
Quoting again from Jim’s “Online Communities Are Green” post
We’ve always tried to cast our arguments for online communities in black and white. It’s time to use a bit more green.
I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts, feedback and examples.
If you are interested in discussing this topic in person, as well as other issues related to sustainability and environmental concerns in the enterprise, please consider joining us for the Green Enterprise Unconference on December 3rd in Mountain View, CA.
2 responses to “Online Communities and Sustainable Development: Supporting “Green” and Beyond”
[…] principles is around balancing the different dimensions of the problem. Bill Johnston also wrote a good post on this subject. Only with sophisticated IM techniques can be find this balance – spreadsheets aren’t going […]
Here at Headshift, we’ve been helping finalists of a UK based environmental competition, supported by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) to raise awareness, and engage stakeholders, through the use of social media – a fairly obvious, but under-utilised, approach.
I traveled the country, by public transport, meeting the groups and helping them get to grips with wordpress, twitter, flickr, yahoo pipes, google maps, bloglines and more. The idea was that, in addition to their work being all about the reduction of CO2, their approach to PR and Marketing had to be sustainable beyond the initial burst of media interest in what they’re doing.
You can find my series of blog posts discussing the social media techniques and tools that environmental groups (and others) can use on the Big Green Challenge blog: http://www.biggreenchallenge.org.uk/tag/social-media/