Social media has created a new kind of currency, different than crypto and nothing Warhol could have imagined. It is the social currency of “likes” and jackpot of virality. We’ve seen what the dark corners of the web can spawn, the social backlash of the Twitter mob, and A LOT of cat videos. There is also a lot of good being done, and often a big part of it being discovered is hashtags. You may remember a few years ago the #IceBucketChallenge dominated the internet, leading to a string of less popular, and sometimes dangerous, imitators.

The latest challenge for bored teens is the #TrashTagChallenge. The idea is to clean up your local beaches and parks of all the trash. Your reward? You take a photo of the area before you begin, and then one at the end where you stand triumphantly with your filled garbage bags and clean patch of nature. Seems hard to knock this effort beyond maybe the need for acknowledgement and social adulation. However, it was quickly pointed out the futility of the effort in the larger picture of our trash issues.

If you're considering how to make your brand or cause relevant, think about an authentic effort to reduce the environmental impact you generate and help consumers feel less guilty about buying your productClick To Tweet

Research done by Padilla has shown a rise of personal accountability we call “IM’powerment” highlighting the rise of individualism. We saw this in our Sustainable Nutrition research, with consumers accepting their own role in reducing food waste. Problems that feel beyond our reach, like climate change, can leave us not knowing where to start. This is where brands can step in and empower consumers to feel they are making a difference that is part of a larger effort. Social media has a way to connect these efforts and make people feel they are not alone.

People are starting to realize that to truly reduce environmental strains around packaging and plastic in general, we must look at the point of purchase, not disposal. Bans and taxes on plastic bags and straws are gaining momentum. Nestle recently announced plans to have “100% of the company’s packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025, with a focus on avoiding plastic waste.” They and other brands have worked with TerraCycle on reusable packaging through Loop.

So back to hashtags. I read about these efforts of multinationals through industry coverage most people will not read. With recent stories about the struggles cities are having with recycling programs, the topic can be confusing and discouraging. Let’s start a hashtag, like #4Earth, that encourages people to show others the simple ways they are reducing their packaging footprint. This could be filling up a water bottle, remembering your reusable bags before going to the store, or showing off your fancy new metal straw. It would create a reservoir of ideas for everyday steps we can all take to make a difference and give brands a place to learn from and engage with consumers.

Earth Day is five weeks away. If you are considering how to make your brand or cause relevant, think about an authentic effort to reduce the environmental impact you generate and help consumers feel less guilty about buying your product. Oh, and consider a hashtag.

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