One of my favorite Sustainability thought leaders, Gregory Unruh, recently posted Transparency: The Internet’s Killer CSR App on The CSR Blog at Forbes. In his post, Greg explores the roots of Internet-based transparency and the business case for embracing transparency. In his words, the Internet provides a “wave of involuntary transparency,” and businesses “can either get out in front of it or fall prey to it.”
In this day and age of Web 2.0, customers interact with a company in many different ways, well beyond the direct transaction of purchasing a product, and they can instantly share their opinions with the world. Suddenly, customers and stakeholders have an easy way to interact, without even knowing each other, and without the company’s involvement. One of the many implications of this is that a company’s brand is increasingly in the hands of the beholders, rather than the company itself.
What does this mean for Corporate Social Responsibility? The increased exposure brought by the interactive internet will force companies to be more authentic in their “green” product or process claims. With the risk of being publicly accused of greenwash increasing, companies must better align their actions with their talk.
At InterfaceFLOR, we are excited to see the approach of this wave of transparency, and we are striving to set the standard of leadership for both product-level and company-level transparency. Our recent announcement to complete third-party audited Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) for all of our products is a compelling example of our commitment to transparency, and earned a place in Joel Makower’s (another one of my favorite thought leaders) “10 Most Hopeful Green Business Stories of 2010”.
But I believe we will see much more in the realm of transparency than full disclosure of product ingredients and environmental impacts. As we move into a world of improved transparency, we are seeing a shift from one-way corporate communications to public dialogue. Companies will engage with stakeholders in open forums where openly questioning a corporation’s sustainability claims will be encouraged and treated with the same strategic significance as focus groups are today. And by learning from their stakeholders’ suggestions, companies will agree that open is smarter than closed.
I can share a recent example of this type of transparency. At our 2010 Greenbuild booth we solicited input for how to be Smarter than Oil, and we discovered a wellspring of inspiration from attendees. By the end of Greenbuild, we not only enjoyed a crowdsourced perspective on our Off Oil mission, but we also benefited from an opportunity to engage deeply with our stakeholders. This small example is just the tip of the iceberg for the potential benefits from improved transparency.
In the spirit of public discourse, I’d love to hear what you, our readers, think about increasing corporate transparency.
What do you think are the implications of this trend? What kind of transparency do you expect from sustainability leaders like InterfaceFLOR?