Transparency is a lofty goal. How do you know when you get there?

Redwood Comment
Published:  08 March, 2017
Mike Redwood

When members of LeatherNaturally! talk about their policies for corporate social responsibility the term "transparency" is always widely used. But what does it mean? At the end of a day on sustainability at the Institute for Creative Leather Technologies (ICLT) in the University of Northampton, Mike Costello, who heads up sustainability at Stahl, probed the event towards the end of his presentation asking: "Transparency is a lofty goal. How do you know when you get there?" 

It is recognised that transparency is a crucial condition to implement a CSR policy based on the reputation mechanism, and that the recognition of your reputation helps build trust and foster cooperation through word of mouth and online communications. Reputation has always been important and counted a great deal even before we had any form of international law. Look back to the Medici days when all merchants and bankers from Florence knew their business was only as good as their reputation. If any company got into trouble they looked to the richer family members to put it right and save the family honour, and failing that the city intervened. No risks were taken with the reputation of Florence.

Today, as we look at the relationship between transparency and sustainability the foundation of our thinking is that we achieve transparency by means of sustainability reporting. We publish data about what we are doing and hide nothing. Indeed, difficult as it seems for some companies, publishing data about aspects of our business that are unsatisfactory is perhaps more important than the good news. It needs to come with an acceptance that it is not as good as it should be and a plan with targets for moving things forward; and this often means you are measuring things you may have overlooked before.

Open up your books and sustainability will follow

It is important also not to do this for just one part of business, but to cover the whole company. Just because you have designed a line that you think is in some way environmentally better, or has fair trade aspects, there is little value promoting it if you are not committed as a business to the philosophy behind it. Full disclosure - complete transparency - is what is needed. The multinational company BP spent millions of dollars advertising itself as Beyond Petroleum, but when consumers found out how little of the business was actually involved in that aspect, and how small the commitment appeared to be, the brand was charged with “greenwashing” and lost public sympathy. A grave error just at the time when it was hitting environmental disasters which cost it dear. Without question, less money on advertising and more money on full transparency (and the commitment that goes with it) would have served them better.

Right now, both western democracy and capitalism are being challenged. The one thing which can underpin the best elements of both is transparency: transparency led from the top of a business as part of drive for socially responsible manufacture as a fundamental philosophy. It is great to see that commitment from so many of our LeatherNaturally! leaders. As Mike Costello concluded “open up your books and sustainability will follow”.

Mike Redwood

8th March 2017

mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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