Vedrana Damjanović

Sophomore, Public relations major

Can we really “click” to save the planet?

The “like,” “share” and “publish” options on social media are not strange to modern society. Supporting sustainability and science on social media is a rising movement that was recently addressed and deeply explored by seven University of Florida students.

Dr. Thiele and Sustainability Studies Interns
Dr. Thiele and Sustainability Studies Interns; Photo by Caroline Nickerson

The University of Florida Center for Adaptive Innovation, Resilience, Ethics and Science (UF CAIRES) organized Friday and Saturday its inaugural Spring conference: Social Media and Sustainability at the Martin H. Levin Advocacy Center at the UF Law School.

A group of seven UF students majoring or minoring in sustainability studies joined the new CAIRES program designed for them to enhance their research and organization skills. They worked for about a year to create an interdisciplinary conference.

A small, highly-driven team brought experts, faculty members and students to explore the opportunities and drawbacks of social media in relation to environmental caretaking and the development of sustainable businesses, technologies and communities.

“The idea of having a conference of how could social media impact sustainability and in what ways they are positive or potentially dangerous seemed like something worth exploring,” said Leslie Thiele, director of the sustainability studies program and CAIRES program. “It’s a changing world and to make it a sustainable world, it needs to be a land of conservation and creativity.”

The first day of conference the keynote speaker Jeremy Heimans, the CEO of Avaz and co-founder of Purpose, addressed some crucial questions of the new tools and shifting values in today’s society in his speech “Unlocking New Power.”

“The world today is characterized by rapidly shifting power dynamics and the rise of new, participatory and peer-driven models across the sectors–something we’ve termed ‘new power,’” Heimans said.  “A better understanding of these shifts is an essential part of tackling any number of global challenges at scale.”

After the speech, the participants could enjoy the presentation of student research projects, displayed in the posters in a pleasant atmosphere followed by music and food.

Paula Roetscher, one of the student conference organizers and sustainability studies junior, has done an individual research on using media as a new tool for sustainability activism and presented her poster at the event. She said sustainability is the way into the future.

“Traditionally, people have only focused on either sustainability or the environment, and sustainability brings both together and also includes people,” Roetscher said. “It has to do a lot with human rights providing people with a decent quality of life, making sure our economic growth doesn’t impact people’s education, people’s living conditions.”

Education is the bridge that connects information and social media. Julie Dodd, professor at the UF’s College of Journalism and Communications, teaches her students on multimedia writing and the importance of social media.

Together with Rebecca Burton, communication coordinator of Florida Sea Grant College Program, and Hannah O. Brown, director of Leadership Development – UF Hillel, Dodd presented the poster on teaching science and communication through blogging and Twitter. Burton started out her science and health blog while she completed her undergraduate degree in in marine biology and journalism at the Florida International University.

“I think this is a great start for students because it is reaching the everyday-people and audience,” Brown said. “In the interviews that we did for this project, a lot of students said they felt really empowered, knowing that they can write about science, put it out there and someone would pick it up. It was a very confident moment for them.”

The second conference day was just as successful. Innovative ideas came from Ryan Cohn, leader of social/digital operations at Florida’s integrated communications and marketing firm Sachs Media Group and teacher of advanced social media at the Florida State University.

In his speech “Social Strategy: How to Build and Empower Online Communities,” Cohn touched upon the best practices in advocating for brand on Facebook. One of the tips he gave was about Facebook and its preference to video content. Cohn said since the videos are on mute, it is best to produce videos with text underneath to catch people’s attention.

Mika Sheera, an advertising freshman, said she enjoyed the conference.

“It really relates to my major,” Sheera said. “Sustainability should be a considered expectation. The speakers were awesome and insightful, and I learned a lot.”

To get involved with CAIRES and attend its future events, follow its Facebook and Twitter page.

The conference was supported by Gainesville local sponsors including Hyppo, Civilization, Terranova Catering and Ward’s Market.