Common Factors in Web 2.0 & Sustainable Development

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Web 2.0 and Sustainable Development – A Way of Life

Via personal predilection and, as it happens, in my work, I am embedded in Web 2.0 functionality. When I take a helicopter view of web 2.0, especially as it applies to the corporate world, I associate the 2.0 mentality with the desire to interact, to listen and to engage. Words such as “open”, “collaborative”, “flat” (as in hierarchy) and “collective intelligence” feature regularly in 2.0 vocabulary. web 2.0 is, at its core, social — thanks to the many new functionalities and the spirit that comes with it. And with it, the internet has gone from cold and impersonal to warm and interactive. Furthermore, web 2.0 is entirely global in scope, like all things on the ‘net.

Web 2.0 Graph Interlinking Circles


In another vein, I am personally committed to Sustainable Development (SD) and, in my professional world, am also engaged in the process. When I consider the mentality of all those who are also promoting SD, I think of the spirit of collaboration, community, an openness to new ideas, and a readiness to engage. And, in case it were not obvious, SD is also a global issue.

As part of any SD philosophy, there is a need to marry economic and ‘social’ benefits alongside the protection of the world’s natural resources. I like the definition that sustainable development is about the people, profit and the planet.

Sustainable Development Interlinking Circles Chart

I have for quite some time believed that, whether it is the mentalities of those involved or the inherent challenges when applied to the corporate world, sustainable development and web 2.0 are intertwined, not to say interdependent. And, as it happens, both topics are very much high up on personal and corporate agendas alike. Those that are engaged in sustainable development and web 2.0 live it both at work and at home. Both entail a state of mind. Both are about individuals engaging in a community affair. And, typically, I have found that when you are into one, you are into the other. Going further into the analysis, the similarities are more than skin deep.

Web 2.0 is a State of Mind


Sustainable development has a natural outlet via the web because its acolytes tend to be very web-friendly. When one looks at sustainable development initiatives (even in a corporate environment), the web itself offers wonderful opportunities. The most basic option is email. Rather than sending letters by post (and paying for and motoring the mail van), the web offers the option to send a paperless email (and even if the email must be printed out, it is quicker and you save on the stamp and the snail mail costs). Sustainable development is also about engaging with your community and there are terrific ways for building on-line communities that transcend borders, age and company lines. Similarly, whether it is an individual, a brand or a company that wants to link in with its community, it has no better way to do so than via 2.0 functionality.

Need to find meaning

In today’s world, especially true for the Gen Y — but also increasingly true for all generations — there is a heightened attention to find meaning. We are all, in our ways, trying to find or give meaning to our lives — and this is true in work as well. Whether a new recruit applying for a job or a current employee, there is an inherent need to feel that one’s values are aligned with the company for whom one is working [notwithstanding the crisis which may impair one’s ability to act freely]. Increasingly, it seems that, in the search for meaning, the professional must be personal. Participating in one or other social media or even writing a blog (in most cases) is a personal act — and the lines are now completely blurred with regards to the corporate “friends” with ever growing corporate functionality in second life, Facebook, etc. Similarly, being committed to sustainable development cannot and does not stop at home.

Sustainable Development & Web 2.0 in the workplace

This all leads me to the notion of bringing web 2.0 or SD into a company that is not otherwise “there”. In a serendipitous way, I was talking with some French friends and realized that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Corporate Social Media actually have the same initials when translated into French: R.S.E. (Réseau Social d’Entreprise et Responsabilité Sociale d’Entreprise). But, whether it is sustainable development or web 2.0, implementation at the company level requires significant change management. And, there are drawbacks or risks to engaging in sustainable development or bringing a web 2.0 philosophy in the corporate world. In both cases, it is hard–if not incredible–to be half web 2.0 or just a little sustainable development. Being half-hearted about either leaves you exposed to having your ear eaten off. Implementing web 2.0 functionality necessarily means being able and wanting to listen because it is about two-way dialogue. If your client has something to tell you, you better have a plan as to how you plan to react. If not, the syndrome of the “fake blog” is quickly rooted out. Similarly, if a company trumpets its responsibility in sustainable development, but behind is wasting water (cf Starbucks nailed by the Daily Sun in the UK), the community bites back.

Taking on SD or implementing web 2.0 environments are neither invisible, innocuous nor temporary actions. Both CSR, as it relates to sustainable development, and the implementation of web 2.0 functionality and systems ultimately require a complete company adoption — and senior management involvement. Anything less will become either dysfunctional or causes disconnection, neither of which are healthy. Meanwhile, if there were ever any question as to why a company should want to go down either road (SD and web 2.0), it is increasingly obvious that the spirit of innovation is inherent in both. Web 2.0 has bred open platform innovation — bringing a wider ranging community into the innovation process. SD, when taken on board fully by a company, has an ability to transform old “in growing” models into vibrant, community-based models that combine ecological benefits (planet) with ergonomic improvements (people) and economic savings (profit), if not growth. By evolving corporate culture to encompass these state of minds, companies will benefit from attracting a certain profile of candidates. Both SD and web 2.0 have engrained in their approach an acute attention to the economics and, moreover, they both provide concrete and measurable benefits.

Three critical steps in “How To…”

But, you don’t get there overnight. So how to do it? As I mentioned before, it takes change management. I have three sine qua non suggestions — whether it is Web 2.0 implementation or Sustainable Development actions we are talking about.

First, part of the recipe for success is having senior management total benediction, if not involvement, to help push through the inevitable sticking points (company culture, etc.). Secondly, actions and implementation need to happen in bite sizes, but as part of an overall plan — otherwise, you can get the callout of “greenwashing” or fake 2.0. And, thirdly, when a company wants to undertake active CSR or integrate web 2.0 functionality (whether in intranet, extranet or internet sites), the internal communication and adoption by its employees are absolutely vital. Notions of greenwashing and web 1.0 management are immediately picked up by employees, so the internal marketing and actions must be carefully aligned with the external communications. Meanwhile, here is a good recap (below) from Search Engine Land on how to bring social media into a company (concept from Elliance.com).

So, in sum, Web 2.0 and Sustainable Development have paths that are intricately related. Not that Greenpeace is all about web 2.0 (of course, their site has plenty of interactivity), but, in that both SD and web 2.0 are associated with a way of life, they share many of the same traits and, to some degree, the same challenges. I scoured the web for others blogging on this particular topic, and I did come up with this article by Thomas Clayburn at Information Week. What I did find more commonly was that there is room to act on Sustainable Development in a 2.0 fashion, namely Sustainable Development 2.0. Here is an October 2007 analysis from Knowledge Politics of Web 2.0 and International Development NGOs. For more on the topic, read below.

What do you think? What similarities do you see? Or do you disagree? Thanks to bring your engagement with you as you comment!

10 Comments, RSS

  1. Alain

    I have read this with much interest. It is refreshing to see both web 2.0 and SD put together in one article, but not with a technology point of view or a single minded HR view.

  2. Colin

    I think the intellectual association of web 2.0 and SD is an interesting exploration but I must admit I am having trouble fully supporting the validity of the relationship.
    Fundamentally I believe the commitment to SD is “value” driven where as web 2.0 behavior is driven by social trends in communication. SD is motivated by a moral and personal accountability for ones actions and impact of those actions on both the environment and inhabitants of the world. There is such a significant degree of conscious and responsible behavior in any SD effort that just doesn’t seem to be in any way a prerequisite for web 2.0 activity. While I agree that the web can be a useful and significant tool to support SD initiatives I don’t see them any more uniquely related than happy bedfellows.

  3. simon h

    I think the matchmaker here is Corporate Resposibility, the relationship of which with SD is unquestioned.

    Looking to the other side of the bed the realtionship between CR and Web 2.0 is less clear but in fact destined to be causal. The logic goes soemthing like this:
    80% of a company’s value is locked up in the brand.
    The fastest growing contributors to brand value are social and environmental performance (or perception thereof)
    Web2.0 promotes and creates transparency and awareness of corporate behaviour (crowd sourced ratings for CR are next)
    Web2.0 forces business to adopt a reponsible approach which in some sense will align with an SD approach.

    Yes, the characteristics of SD and Web2.0 practitioners may have similarities but the real interest here (for me) is the potential for web2.0 to force the pace of change.

  4. Minter

    I hear you colin and simon h. By the same token, I am inclined to say that, as SD proponents, you both are web 2.0 just by dint of your commentary on this post. That said, the importance of SD versus web 2.0 is enitrely lopsided and, it is clear that web 2.0 will evolve and ultimately disappear into the graveyard of internet vocabulary, whereas SD is going to be around for a while. In the meantime, let’s indeed use 2.0 to push the SD agenda!

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