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An Age of Transparency

Like a sandcastle trying to fend off a rising tide, businesses with closed doors are being washed away by the honesty and immediacy of online culture. As the internet engulfs the world no business will be able to escape the flood of information and resulting transparency. Better information will radically transform our market place, as the old sandcastles are washed away, the transparent brands will float to the top. With nothing to hide, they can relate better to consumers, and people who work within these companies are generally happier.

Radical transparency is a term that was coined by Daniel Goleman in his book Ecological Intelligence. Goleman proposes that we can use market forces to build a greener world, using two fundamental economic theories: “First transparency. A maxim in economics holds that transparency makes markets work more efficiently. This rule has long been applied to price, but why not also apply it to the ecological impacts of industry and commerce? At present when it comes to the ecological consequence of the things we buy, we have information asymmetry, where sellers know far more than buyers.” And this shift of power can be facilitated through the second economic principal, “lowering the cost of that information to zero.”

Our increased ability to to quickly and freely access information is redistributing power to consumers. GoodGuide is website and app does exactly that. GoodGuide uses more than 200 databases on the environmental, health, and social impacts of tens of thousands of consumer goods. The free smart phone app allows shoppers to compare the eco-virtue of products while in the aisles of a store. Soon the businesses that adapt the fastest will put environmental and social data next to price tags, thus effectively reducing the information cost to zero.

There are other new technologies that can provide easy data accessibility to consumers. Examples included Carrotmob, an innovative organization that leverages purchasing power for good. Then there is the wiki Brandkarma, their video is featured above, and Sourcemap, an open source platform for ‘researching, optimizing and sharing supply chains.’ SkinDeep is one of the first product transparency websites, they rank personal care products like mascara and hair dye by matching each ingredient to findings of concern in medical databases.

Transparency is a win-win for consumers and corporations. Transparent brands have nothing to hide, they can relate better to customers, and people who work within these companies are happier. Humanity can succeed corporations as the ultimate power on earth, and a world where corporations work in service of humanity and the environment is possible. The flood of information from online culture will radically transform our marketplace and as the old sandcastles are washed away the transparent brands will float to the top


By Andy Sontag

Illustration by Jeff Oeth

Reader Comments (2)

I can see where Andy is coming from, but have a tougher time divining where that goes than he seems to have. For one thing, every time online democracy is said to be about to triumph, marketing pros find some way to subvert that. For another, a whole lot fewer folk know about GoodGuide than Facebook. Sure, things like it can bubble up to prominence, but don't count on it being a given, as Andy seems to.

A lot more than little eco-brands, smartphone apps and activist petitions will be needed to dislodge giant brands like P&G, Pepsi, or Nestles from positions of power. Andy makes it sound so easy and inevitable. It is not. Believe me, la lutte continue.

April 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGeoff

Completely agree on the power of transparency to build customer trust. I actually held a little 'Take Your Customer To Work Day' a few years back to celebrate this notion on more of a 1-on-1 level. Check it, if interested:

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSean

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