Getting On The Same Page: Sustainable Transparency
In my experience, every sustainability professional I’ve ever met has agreed that organizations need to be transparent in their sustainability communications. And yet, that word – transparency – means vastly different things both within and externally to an organization.
For some, transparency means reporting, and potentially adhering to a set of reporting standards like the Global Reporting Initiative. This could be a standalone sustainability report or as a more “integrated” structure, folded into an annual report. Others may forgo official reporting and focus on their interactions with consumers, ensuring that information can be found on their websites and social media channels. Some mean that they are an open book to investors, and others will provide unfettered information… but only upon request. Some professionals will tell you to do all of the above, and others will balk, because of the resource-commitment required to implement such tactics.
How did we get to this place? It is partially due to the fact that the sustainability strategies for most organizations have been characterized by evolution. As professionals, our locations within an organization vary – some of us are in marketing, some in communications, operations, strategy, philanthropy, or even HR – and as such, we have our own definitions of transparency that are informed by our area within an organization.
Within sustainability roles – which now may be either housed in one department, or spread across an organization – it is vital that we are all on the same page so that we can agree what transparency means for a particular organization.
Here are a few tips on how to get on the same page:
1. Define Transparency for Yourself: Ask yourself what you believe ‘transparency’ means, as a professional, as an employee, as a consumer, and as an investor. Make sure that you have a rationale for your perspective – what is being informed by?
2. Assess the Industry: Is there a benchmark for transparency for your industry or other similar organizations? Are there ratings or rankings to consider that measure your organization on its level of sustainability transparency? If so, where has your organization done well and where has it done poorly?
3. Work Across Functions: true sustainability touches many areas of an organization and it’s crucial to ensure that the right players are at the table, including marketing, communications, operations, senior management, and legal, among others. This is true even if your organization has a sanctioned office of sustainability.
While there are several standards of transparency which most organizations can use as a blueprint, ultimately, every organization must decide for itself what level of adherence they can, and should meet. And then, to be fully transparent, this definition should be communicated to key stakeholders so that we aren’t left guessing or making assumptions.
Let me know here or at @Brigid_Milligan – how do you define transparency?