Green, a Dead End For Social Networks?

by Marguerite Manteau-Rao

A while ago, I wrote about ‘Why Green Social Networks Don’t Work‘:

Green social networks are popping all over the place. Frankly, I have stopped keeping track. They want us to become engaged, and to change our behaviors, fast. They claim to have all kind of tools to help us accomplish the impossible. How come then, I am not more enthused? I, out of all people, who spend so much time on the topic, should be an easy sell.

Here is what I think is missing from all these sites. A lack of understanding of basic psychology, and of the way real people change their behaviors. I do not decide ‘I want to be green’, and ask for someone to whip me into shape. Actually, I may, but the truth is, that kind of intention is not sustainable. I do not need to add yet another thing on my already long to-do list. I want solutions to my everyday problems, as in more convenient, cheaper, smarter.

Two months later, with the gas, food, and mortgage crisis hitting the American people on multiple fronts, more than ever is it important for green social network entrepreneurs to revise their strategies. And to come down from their lofty green goals, and start addressing Josephine’s pain, as related here in a recent New York Times article:

‘Josephine Cage, who fillets fish, said her 30-mile commute from Tchula to Isola in her 1998 Ford Escort four days a week is costing her $200 a month, or nearly 20 percent of her pay. “I make it by the grace of God,” she said, and also by replacing meat at supper with soups and green beans and broccoli. She fills her car a little bit every day, because “I can’t afford to fill it up. Whatever money I have, I put it in.”’

Josephine, and a growing group of citizens, from all socio-economic stratas, have much to say to social entrepreneurs. ‘Grab us where we are hurting the most, and offer us tools that we really need, not just ‘nice to have’ green networks.’ It may very well be, that the best way to engage users into adopting greener behaviors, is not through a direct green message. But rather, by helping them ease the pinch in their pocketbooks.

I am curious, what is your experience with green social networks, both from a personal and a professional standpoints? Do you share my views? Which strategies do you suggest for current and future green social networks?

Marguerite Manteau-Rao is a green blogger and marketing consultant on sustainability and social media issues. Her blog, La Marguerite, focuses on behavioral solutions to climate change and other global sustainability issues.

8 replies
  1. Matthew Savage
    Matthew Savage says:

    Hi Marguerite,Would love to talk to you about this topic. I wonder if Josephine is even in the target market for social networks. She doesn’t strike me as a typical user. The target market for social networks are usually middle to upper social class.I do agree with you that we need to find larger ways to engage with the wider public. I also agree that the ‘green’ message is not the way to go. But how do you engage someone who can’t even feed themselves properly? This is a political issue.My whole slant is engaging local communities. I think grassroots change needs to start from home. I am working on social networks that encourage face-to-face interaction.Thanks,Matt

  2. Matt Finnell
    Matt Finnell says:

    First!. . .j/kThis is pretty interesting. It seems that the SES movement for equality should probably unite w/ the green movement. Has the green movement become just another form of identity politik?

  3. Scott Boutwell
    Scott Boutwell says:

    I think the emphasis on the need for green networks is misplaced, as you posit. As you mentioned in this post, people have enough in their own lives to deal with, without the extra burden (both real and imaginary, i.e. “guilt”)of being sustainable.I think more viable means of driving sustainability at the consumer and personal level is to reach out to vendors, organizations, and government and incent them to assist their customers (that is; us) in sustainable behavior. I know this is not an easy task (if it was, it would be done by now).Examples could be:- The utility company provides real – time visibility in energy use, and real, quantifiable rewards to conserve energy- Consumer product companies build brand loyalty by producing cheaper, high value sustainable goods….may not be acheivable in all markets, but consider that as a set of necessary investments to allow them to grow new markets.The list could go on, but again: I agree that social networking on a personal level for sustainability will not grow appreciably until there are incentives from vendors, govt, and others.Last thought: I do think social networking is a necessary organizational and knowledge management tool in the selling, development, and deployment of sustainability solutions; I just wrote a column on this topic for TriplePundit.com (August 3rd 2008 issue)

  4. lamarguerite
    lamarguerite says:

    Matt, agree that Josephine is NOT the target user for social networks. She is however a poster woman for the larger economic context that touches (most of) us. I do not consider myself poor, and I am a power user of Web 2.0, and still, my priorities are no different from Josephine. I worry about my pocketbook, and there are certain prices, as in gas or milk prices that get my attention. That comes ahead of being green. Coming from someone who is at the forefront of the green blogging movement!

  5. mOblu Mike
    mOblu Mike says:

    Great post. Couldn't agree more.As you say, the "I want to be green" intention isn't sustainable by itself.It has to be about making better (ie. money saving and environment saving) energy choices easier and simpler for people.We're trying to put that basic principle to work at a company called mOblu (www.moblu.ca). Our mantra is "Better energy choices made easier".We started mOblu more than a year and a half ago with the idea of building a social network centred around sustainable energy choices. However, we quickly reached the same conclusion that you have. In order to make the business sustainable, there needed to be more to it than "I want to be green".We decided to focus on building easy to use tools to help people calculate and track their energy use. We have started with a simple calculator that lets users calculate their gas costs (and CO2 impact) for any car trip. More tools to follow and we hope to add more social components to these tools as we go – by letting people share their energy use information with others.Here's to "green" energy solutions that are "convenient, cheaper and smarter".

  6. daniel
    daniel says:

    I agree that people are looking for practical measures that relate to their life. A new eco-related Q&A site Green Grover (www.greengrover.com) aspires to do just that, by connecting people to the questions about going green that are most relevant to them. We are not blind to the rising economic challenges, and encourage members to share information that is helpful to the planet and to their wallet. We've included sections for Money Saving Tips, rebates, and more. Going green shouldn't be reserved for an elite group that can afford new products. It's about smart choices and gaining the knowledge relevant to your life circumstances.

  7. Sarhn
    Sarhn says:

    I am starting to wonder and maybe even believe the damage we have done to our world is a direct result of the damage in our hearts, minds, souls and spirit.Call it green psychology if you like but I wonder if it is even possible to fix the world's environmental problems without first looking into the damage we individually have done inside ourselves.In Josephine's case she doesn't have the luxury to take time out and ponder anything deeper than perhaps survival.For many people it will be always hard to do the right thing when it will a) cost you b) the wrong thing is more practical c) no one will know but you.Really glad to read your post. I started like many others on a green journey but found looking deeply into my own inner thoughts very challenging and revealling.I write about my often very personal findings on my blog (aka another social networking site). My intention is not to change the world but by being honest, open and accountable perhaps I can change my own impact/footprint and maybe even along the way find my own personal meaning of life.I have written a couple of posts on my personal findings on Green Psychology if anyone is interested .www.greenerme.wordpress.comSarhn

  8. googleblogger
    googleblogger says:

    I'm inclined to agree. As an Internet Marketer I see social networks poping up all over the place for every industry under the sun. The problem is that people think they can use one of the off the shelf free systems like Ning.com and suddenly everyone will 'engage' In my professional opinion,there is no space for another Facebook, myspace or other general social networks. However the future is in niche social environments relevant to the needs of the user.The challenge here is to understand the industry in question enough to be able to provide a systematic, relevant and challenge solving formula based on a social paradigm… and yes this is possible, with some foresight, thought and consideration.Take for example 'www.GreenGrassVC.com' which I came across today whilst researching this exact issue. Its new so I have no idea if it is 'sustainable' 9excuse the pun) in its' own right…but it looks like it addresses a bunch of the needs of a specific sector of the clean-tech world….

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