Alumna collaborates on research about ‘Spinning Green on the Web’

A recent Penn State alumna will present research regarding environmental communications alongside a College of Communications faculty member at an international public relations conference later this month.

Brenna Thorpe, who graduated with a degree in advertising/public relations in 2012 and works as a strategic communications consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton, will present a paper, titled “Spinning the Green Web: How Fortune 300 Companies Communicate Their Sustainability Efforts Through Websites and Social Media,” that she co-authored with Denise Bortree, an assistant professor in the Department of Advertising/Public Relations. Their work will be shared at the Public Relations Society of America International Conference, scheduled Oct. 26-29 in Philadelphia, Pa.

The key findings for the research conducted by Thorpe and Hamilton were that social media is used to share sustainability stories and is currently leading traditional media in the sustainability space.

Thorpe, a member of the Schreyer Honors College as a student at Penn State, wrote her honors thesis about environmental sustainability on corporate websites. Bortree conducted additional interviews about the topic, and she and Thorpe combined their findings into the paper.

“When she asked if we could combine papers, I was really excited and I’m proud of the work we both did,” Thorpe said. “She was the supervisor of my thesis, so she was familiar with the methods and material I used, and was easily the best person to expand upon my work.”

Bortree also serves as a senior research fellow for the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication, housed in the College of Communications. In 2012, she co-edited a book titled “Talking Green: Exploring Contemporary Issues in Environmental Communications,” and she has published more than 25 journal articles about environmental communication and other topics.

“Spinning the Green Web” focuses on the correlation between companies promoting their environmental efforts and their reputation. Research was conducted by interviewing 14 corporate sustainability communicators for Fortune 300 companies. Another method of research involved a content analysis of 50 websites of Fortune 200 companies.

Bortree and Thorpe made several discoveries with their work. First, a company’s location on the Fortune 500 list had no correlation with a company’s online sustainability information. The research did find a strong correlation between reporting quantitative figures regarding environmental impacts and company reputation. Research also found a positive correlation between reputation and the amount of information provided online regarding environmental initiatives, present and future.

Based on their research and findings, Bortree and Thorpe concluded that social media is a useful tool to create interest and thought leadership in sustainability. They believe social media can be useful in improving a company’s reputation when the quality and quantity is sufficient on Web pages.

Last Updated October 16, 2013