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A Sustainable Design Blog

Why You Should Embrace Transparency

by Jennifer Stewart | Jun 22, 2012 | Advice

The speakers at the Sustainable Brands Conference this year often repeated the phrase “transparency is not an option anymore.” The hot topic of transparency is indeed a sign of things to come and while it may be ominous to larger brands, it also provides opportunities for companies both large and small.

So what is transparency for a company? The impending transparency demand that was eluded to at SB’12 is the triple bottom line – people, planet, and profits. Consumers and governments are demanding a fair trade supply chain and full ingredient disclosure. Worries about diminishing resources and exponential carbon output are increasing the market demand for low impact products and services. And the shareholders of large companies are increasingly considering ethics alongside profits. Consumers are demanding this and much more and governments around the world are trying to keep their constituents happy by making it law.

Is it really no longer an option? Well, if you’re a big conglomerate like Apple, Kraft, or Nike, no it’s not an option because people will find out whatever you try to hide anyway. Whether it be angry internal whistleblowers, clever hackers, lawsuits, or government intervention, no bad deed shall go unnoticed. I can go online and strike up a friendship with a Nike factory worker right now and then spread any negative information I get all over Facebook. Of course there is also the benefit that if a company is doing things ethically, I may spread positive information and help to quash incorrect rumors.

What about small brands? The smaller companies without the household name status certainly have the option to be less transparent and not have to worry about whistleblowers and hackers, but I would like to argue that small brands have a unique advantage when it comes to transparency and should see this as an opportunity. A smaller company often has less to track in their supply chain therefore making it easier and faster for them to acquire and display the data that consumers demand and that some day soon may be required by regulators. So while Lay's is trying to figure out where all it's potatoes are coming from, you can be sending a PR article with a picture of your potato farmer holding your brand of chips.

Transparency should be viewed as a strategy for small companies, not a hassle. Making the grand assumption that you have nothing to hide, if your small company is able to give reports on your ingredient suppliers, your efforts to run a sustainable office environment, your civic engagement, and even how you plan to invest your profits, this will inevitably win you devoted fans. Not because you are perfect, but because you are honest. This level of disclosure lets your customers know who they are buying from and feel good about your intentions.

Winning a customer’s trust is the ultimate goal of any brand. It is also a difficult battle considering there are so many brands out there, chances are that few customers will love yours. However, if greater disclosure can create a level of trust that allows a customer to walk into a store and pick up your product instead of your competitor’s just because they feel that they ‘know’ your brand, then it is worth all the effort.

Jennifer Stewart is the Office Manager and wanna-be organizational psychologist at Modern Species. For more posts from her, click here.

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Every profession bears the responsibility to understand the circumstances that enable its existence.- Robert Gutman