Radical Transparency: Now is the time for business to tell all

Radical transparency is my favorite kind of transparency. My soul sings when a company can clearly share their ambitious goals to achieve truly meaningful change, and tells the public not only where they are succeeding, but also where they’re struggling. This, more than anything, gives me a boost of confidence in our collective efforts to keep our planet live-able. We need more of it, now!

The Business Dictionary defines transparency as the “lack of hidden agendas and conditions, accompanied by the availability of full information required for collaboration, cooperation, and collective decision making.” Its important to remember that being transparent includes sharing where we have failed or are struggling, and I think this is the side of transparency most businesses would prefer to gloss over or hide. I’ve added the descriptor “radical” because, in the world we currently live in, to publicly share whats challenging for us is a rare and brave thing to do. There is a way to share these hurdles that raises brand value, creates opportunity for industry collaboration, and doesn’t diminish a company’s industry leadership. It is meaningful to state you have a goal, you tried these things, some efforts didn’t work so you’re trying this new strategy next. And that is so much more meaningful than glossing over shortfalls, sweeping them under the rug or revising down your goals.

We need businesses to be radically transparent in setting and tracking truly ambitious goals for climate action and social equity.

Here are a couple examples at vastly different scales:

In IKEA’s 2018 and 2019 Sustainability Report, where the company provides annual progress updates on their People & Planet Positive commitments, the 4th page announces their key achievements, and the 5th page announces their challenges. No hiding difficulties away, but putting it front and center. Big challenges like decoupling their climate footprint from growth (ie not adjusting for growth but looking for absolute reductions overall), and remaining affordable as they push for more sustainably sourced materials and better working conditions. By delivering achievements and challenges side by side, IKEA has reinforced that they are continually working towards their goals and know what they still need to work on.

Framed in another context, I recently attended an NAMC-Oregon industry forum where a number of local general contractor businesses came together (with a 100+ audience) to talk not only about diversity and inclusion challenges and shortcomings, but also to collectively begin discussing what they could do to start to address these problems as an industry. A couple goals identified included the obvious: individually, companies must set and deliver more aggressive diversity hiring requirements; and, the collective: how can companies collectively create opportunities to educate and train more diverse young people to join the trades, to get interested in the building industry and know that they have a place there? I’m excited to watch these ideas turn into reality. More industries from the local to international level need to have these conversations. The first step is to begin.

I believe that we can set ambitious goals for our companies and meet them. Social impacts, environmental impacts, and climate action cannot be viewed as less important than financial gain. We can rethink what it means for business to succeed, and we must! Will it be easy? No, but the most important successes rarely are. We must be radically transparent about the ups and downs so others can follow us, collaborate with us, or guide us along the way.



Published by Alex Setmajer

Sustainability professional driven to help the world continually become a more sustainable place.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: