Social media helps UA group spread environmental message

Jessica Harris, in front of a mixing pile, is in the Compost Cats program at UA. Photo by: Michaela Webb/Arizona Sonora News

Millennials and social media go together like peanut butter and jelly.

With the internet accessible from just a few clicks of your cellphone, the concept of communication and education has been modified to fit this new digital age network. As a result, social media technologies have gained increased attention for their potential to amplify environmental concerns and encourage sustainable behaviors among people.

Compost Cats is a good example. The student-run organization at the University of Arizona sends and receives messages to millennials about diverting food waste, manure and other organic materials from the landfill — transforming them into a high-quality soil for local agriculture and landscaping use.

A screenshot of the Compost Cats displaying their work tables at Savor Food and Wine Festival. Photo by: Derek Gaines/ Arizona Sonora News

“We are very passionate about our role in the community and always aim to make a strong impact,” said Michaela Webb, who has worked with Compost Cats for four years.

Millennials are seen as the generation that grew up alongside with technology and looked at as the pioneers of a new age of communication. Cellphone usage is second nature to millennials, and now they’re using their familiarity with social media as a way to market and inform others.

According to a 2017 study by the Pew Research Center, roughly 9-in-10 American adults use the internet. About 98 percent of adults in 2017 from the ages of 18-29 use the internet compared to 70 percent in 2000. Reliance on smartphones for online access is especially common among younger adults. Today, 69 percent of U.S. adults are social media users according to the Pew Research Center, social media usage is especially popular among younger adults from the ages 18-29 as 86 percent of young adults use social media platforms.

In a 2010 study, sociologists Beth Kanter and Allison Fine studied how social networks can actively promote environmental awareness and a sustainable lifestyle and influence an environmental movement.

At UA, Compost Cats constantly uses Facebook to inform their followers of their agendas and accomplishments. Webb found out about the group through Facebook.

“I was wanting to get involved with the UA, so I googled environmental clubs, and they were the first ones I saw,” she said.

Chet Phillips, a project supervisor and sustainability program coordinator for Compost Cats, said social media “has a positive impact with a lot of things, not just environmentalism.”

“With us especially, social media has become such an asset with our work and our logistics,” he said. “With it, we are able to communicate more fast and efficiently, as well as display our work and product.”

Compost Cats posts photos of their employees working on the farm to Facebook and Instagram to show the meticulous process of composting — and to hopefully inspire more students who see those posts to volunteer with them and partake in a more sustainable process. Facebook is the most commonly used app with Compost Cats, but they also have a Twitter and Instagram account.

“We will continue to use social media in order to help spread our message,” Phillips said. “I think without a social media presence, you really can’t thrive like the olden days.”

Chet Phillips and Marcia Slagle driving the skip-loader on the farm. Photo by: Michaela Webb/ Arizona Sonora News

Derek Gaines is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at derekgaines@email.arizona.edu 

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