As the world increasingly becomes politically polarized and some governments abandon sustainable initiatives, like President Trump’s announcement to pull out of the Paris Agreement in June 2017, consumers are now looking towards CEOs and their companies to lead the way in sustainability.

During the last quarter of 2017, our data scientists conducted an analysis of digital opinions to understand what sustainability means to the US public. We wanted to know the main challenges consumers expect CEOs to confront and which companies are currently setting the bar in sustainable practices. Using our proprietary software, Alto Analyzer, we collected 72M data points from 3.2M comments and 1.7M interactions created by 1.3M authors across Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Reddit, forums, blogs, news and other digital sources in English and Spanish.

Consumers focus on 5 key themes: Climate Change, Renewable Energies, Zero Waste, Environmental Impact by Consumption and UN SDG’s.

Alto Analyzer identifies emerging narratives by connecting the topics consumers refer to simultaneously and with a high frequency, as part of their spontaneous digital conversations. The below network shows a total of 787.872 interconnections comprised of different themes that enabled our analysts to spot five key emerging narratives and themes of public interest. Climate Change is top of the mind, capturing 39% of the conversation, along with another 33 adjacent narratives.
Alto Analyzer provides our analysts the ability to then deep dive into how key themes are interconnected to uncover adjacent narratives such as gender, hunger, sustainable-cities, circular economy and how block-chain technology is impacting the environment. As you can see in the data visualization below, zero waste is closely connected with the discussion around sustainable-cities, circular economy and sustainable investing. The visualization also shows how blockchain is related to renewable energies in the context of technological impact.

Top brands positioned as being sustainable
Climate Change      Renewable Energy       Sustainable Dev Goals     
Zero Waste      Environment

Politics and tech companies are reshaping consumers’ minds around 6 key areas of sustainability.

By analyzing the digital footprint of authors, Alto Analyzer visually represents how authors cluster in distinct communities and which authors have more influence. Authors are represented as nodes (i.e. profiles) of consumers, political organizations or brands.
The network below connects the 758,040 most active authors through their 1,663,078 interactions in the form of re-tweets and replies within the public debate on sustainability. Alto’s algorithms then determine the size of each node based on connections: the larger the node, the more influence the profile has within its community of interconnected nodes.
We observed the conversation on sustainability as highly polemic and divided in two large communities. The blue community shows a tendency of nodes to cluster around politicized themes, driven by politicians and celebrity campaigning. This community represents 60.3% of all authors mostly focused on Trump, Bernie Sanders and the Flint clean water crisis. The second community, shown in orange and smaller in size, represents 19.9% of authors who focus on a non-political debate, including those from the private sector around the key 5 themes earlier identified.

Top brands positioned as being sustainable

Our analysis also shows how some of the most influential nodes in the non-politized community are consumer brands, with tech companies leading the way.
What are the initiatives most capturing consumer’s attention? By analyzing what brands and initiatives are most mentioned in relation to sustainable practices, we discovered 6 key areas of consumer interest: Renewable Energies, Zero Waste, Sustainable Production, Save the Ocean, Protect the Forest and Clean the Rivers.
Consumers’ minds are being shaped primarily by tech companies investing in renewable energies directly connected to their businesses and the idea of the circular economy. Tesla, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, General Electric, Apple, Intel and Sony are amongst the top mentioned brands related to sustainable practices.
A qualitative analysis of consumers’ opinions shows they are skeptical about brands expressing long-term commitments that do not deliver immediate results. In our analysis we identified Starbuck’s commitment made in 2015 to use only 100% recyclable cups by 2015, which was later heavily criticised by the public after news released in June 2017 about Starbucks sending 4 billion non-recyclable paper cups to landfills every year was shared, resulting in an environmental activist campaign to make Starbucks fulfil its 2015 promise.
Our qualitative research also uncovered that consumers highly value CEOs who publicly endorse their company’s sustainability plans and actively join the digital debate. Consumers are turning to CEOs in search of leaders that not only provide long-term commitments, but leaders who push their brands to catalyze consumers and other brands in new and collaborative ways. The top example from our research was Coca-Cola’s “Clean Coast Week” in Ireland but also with a strong digital echo in US. Coca-Cola raised awareness of the importance of protecting our coastline, encouraged more coastal clean-ups around the country and facilitated through digital media the recruitment of volunteers to clean their local beaches.

Top brands positioned as being sustainable

Is your CEO an activist? How to start.

The key insight from our research shows the increasingly crucial role of CEOs to be activists for sustainability. Here are some ideas to start formulating a strategy:

  1. Redefine your competitors as tech companies. To adopt sustainable practices, companies must look to the tech sector and not their traditional competitors for best practices. Our analysis proves companies in tech sector are already leading sustainability through renewable energies and zero-waste models of production while shaping consumers minds on how technology companies approach sustainability.
  2. Adapt your company’s current communication strategy. Consumers expect companies to publicly lead the debate with both short-term and present strategies that deliver with -term commitment. As demonstrated in the case of Starbucks consumers pay attention to follow through and highly value tangible initiatives catalyzing consumer and other brands actions.
  3. CEOs must actively join the public discussion. Consumer expect CEOs not be complacent and operate their business in such a way where the well-being of our planet is not top of mind. As our analysis proves, consumers need role models and leaders especially when governments are not prepared. There is a clear opportunity for CEOs to take responsibility and join the public debate on sustainability.

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Interested in our work? For questions or a presentation of the complete analysis, please contact us at To learn more about Alto Data Analytics and our proprietary software, subscribe to our newsletter below.