In the past five years, the social call to action to build a more sustainable world has spread at great speed, according to the BBVA Research report ‘Sustainability through the Lens of Big Data’. The study underscores that while climate change is still leading the conversation, biodiversity is emerging as the concept with the greatest growth —especially in Latin America— and it is expected to be one of the pillars that will mark the sustainability debate in the short and medium term.
Using big data and data science, the BBVA Research report identifies society’s debates and concerns related to sustainability. “With this study, we aim to be the eyes and ears of society when it comes to sustainability in order to understand what, how, when and where it is discussed, capturing the related topics that emerge or concern society, what actors are leading the debate and how they interact over time and across locations,” explains Tomasa Rodrigo, Lead Economist of Big Data and New Tools for Economic Analysis at BBVA Research.
One of the main conclusions of the report is that sustainability is a much more popular concept in developed countries. Biodiversity conservation is starting to position itself as equally important to climate change. In fact, Tomasa Rodrigo notes that: “The concept of ‘biodiversity’ is emerging with force, especially in Latin America if we look at it from a more regional perspective.”
The United Nations, Reuters, Greenpeace, Robert Watson, Greta Thunberg, Pope Francis, Joe Biden and Donald Trump are some of the individuals and organizations that have been involved in the sustainability debate in recent years.
Coverage of sustainability in both social networks and the media has increased considerably since 2016, with Spain, France, and the U.S. as some of the countries with the greatest relative coverage internationally, the report states. The most prominent topics have been climate change and biodiversity conservation.
According to Tomasa Rodrigo, “The data we have collected in our report confirms a growing interest in sustainability in society. We observe that social attention, and attention from the media, which was originally led by government administrations and NGOs, is now transcending the sphere of private society to the business world. This trend is rapidly accelerating,” he stressed.
Big data sources used in the report
In order to prepare the report, BBVA Research used sources such as global media outlets, analyzed debates in social networks, as well as social concerns through online search engines GDELT (Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone) and Media Cloud. They also used Google Trends to explore society's concerns, showing the content related to sustainability that appears in searches. They also explored information from Twitter, which offers a very specific vision regarding opinions on this topic.
The Twitter analysis identifies innovation and the change in consumer habits as key issues to attain a “more sustainable world”. The transportation, fashion and food industries focus their efforts on being perceived as sustainable industries and are putting themselves in the center of the debate. Issues of a social nature, such as equality or assertion of rights also play an important role.
Similarly, there is a great sustainable debate on Twitter that focuses especially on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the context of climate change. The most popular hashtags are ‘SDGs’, ‘climate change’, ‘agenda’ and ‘climate crisis’ among others.
Since 2015, there has been a trend on the rise in terms of the volume of publications, and important milestones are clearly identified in the context of sustainability. When analyzing the hashtags, it is possible to capture the current key areas of communication (construction, energy, ESG principles, SDGs, the recent impact of COVID), and identify that the debate on Twitter Spain is dominated by the energy and financial sectors, with BBVA leading many of the conversations.
In conclusion, BBVA Research stresses that identifying and understanding the trends in sustainability is crucial when it comes to policy making, research, companies’ strategic planning and social investment.