Coalitions of Transparency: You Don’t Have to Reinvent the Wheel

This post is the fourth in a series of eight that unpacks the increasing expectation of transparency in business: Why and how to develop authentic, accurate, and thorough communication and reporting on your business purpose, goals, and impact.

Key to growth through transparency is collaboration — our business is far from alone in this necessary quest. We can benefit from — and contribute to — the trust inherent in a consortium of established allies.

It starts with leadership support. For example, Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose (CECP) is a CEO-led coalition founded by actor and philanthropist Paul Newman in 1999. CECP argues that a company’s social strategy — how it engages with key stakeholders including employees, communities, investors, and customers — determines company success.

CECP has grown to a movement of more than 200 of the world’s largest companies that represent $11.2 trillion in revenues, $23 billion in social investment, 14 million employees, 23 million hours of employee engagement, and $15 trillion in AUM.

CECP publishes some data regarding its members’ tactics and practices on transparency, which we can work to emulate, relative to our resources.

Along those same lines, The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (BCSD) is a global council of councils, representing CEOs from more than 200 leading businesses, a combined revenue of more than $8.5 trillion and 19 million employees. The forum has been collaborating for a quarter century to “accelerate the transition to a sustainable world,” through eco-efficiency (a term the council coined) while at the same time focusing on economic sustainability — that is, ensuring maximum positive impact for shareholders, the environment, and societies.

Again, organizations such as the BSCD can help us launch our own efforts based on their model. So can the tools and resources provided by organizations such as IMPACT2030, which was created in 2015 with the belief that private sector corporations are a key part in addressing needs in our changing world. Chevron, Medtronic, and Hasbro are among more than 75 partner companies (and growing).

These affiliates collaborate, with their millions of collective employees acting as multipliers of impact around the world, mostly through volunteering in pursuit of achieving the SDGs. “If we can unlock and activate the skills and passion of the world’s extensive base of employees, we can significantly increase our collective impact on critical societal issues and achieve measurable outcomes,” says Peter Bodin, Chair of IMPACT2030 board of directors and global CEO, Grant Thornton International, Ltd.

Thus, we don’t have to lead a multi-billion dollar enterprise to benefit from collective wisdom. Active collaborations abound among similar professionals or pre-aligned industry leaders. For example, Civic Nation’s Creative Alliance (CNCA) is a band of 100+ creative- and communication experts who use their powers for the good of the country (the US), focusing on helping organizations in their purpose and impact transparency efforts.

By now, every industry has at least one and often more coalitions or other membership groups that convene and provide benchmarking, analysis, strategy, and communications about transparency in societal/community investment, employee engagement, environmental social governance/sustainable business, diversity, equity, & inclusion, and getting our purpose/impact story out there.

For example, on the supply-chain front, global brands Mars, PepsiCo, and Unilever are among the founders of the 600+ member SourceUp, a collaborative online platform powered by the Sustainable Trade Initiative, with the goal of improving environmental and social conditions in commodity-producing regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Members of the chemical manufacturing industry have for 30+ years subscribed to the Responsible Care program it founded with a nonprofit partner regarding health and safety.

If there’s nothing out there in your industry, create it. Vanguard companies take the lead in accelerating transparency in their trade. Consider conflict minerals. Intel was the first to demand of all its suppliers complete transparency and compliance with existing government guidelines, among other assurances. You must innovate ways to comply if you want to play with Intel.

Interface, the carbon-capturing floor company — the largest floor tile company in the world, in fact — takes a softer approach to bringing together partners. Interface’s most recent mission, Climate Take Back, invites other companies to join them in their commitment to running their business in a way that’s restorative to the planet and creates a climate fit for life.

Over the years, Interface has scaled its own sustainability efforts — its core purpose — by innovating shared tools to help the collective business world ameliorate the environmental crisis.

For example, it worked with allies in industry and academia as a critical early partner, funder, and supporter of an environmental labeling tool for Microsoft called the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3). Built by Skanska and the Carbon Leadership Forum, EC3 was the first free, open-source tool of its kind.

That’s right: Free and available on the cloud for anyone — even ostensible “competitors” — to use. No secret sauce of the trade. No hoarded IPO as in days of business yore.

In fact, such progress on collective corporate environmental action has inspired similar efforts in adjacent industries as evidenced by electronic design company Logitech’s “Total Carbon Transparency” pledge, which commits the company to label all its products with a footprint rating and universally readable symbols across its entire portfolio by 2025.

This carbon-negative trend has recently swept other industries, most notably apparel. Particularly impressive in this space are companies such as Levi’s and Allbirds (“Newsflash: Fashion pollutes the planet!”). Allbirds’ Carbon Footprint tool measures and labels the environmental impact of its products much like a food nutrition label: materials, manufacturing, transportation, product use, and end of life. Allbirds might not be quite radically transparent, but it’s still leading the pack.

Why are these companies so transparent when the goals — such as solving the climate emergency — seem so daunting? Says Logitech, “We are aware of the urgent need to take climate action. By being open and transparent about our impact, we believe we can drive better design and consumer decision-making. We share the impact of carbon in a visible way and we actively drive this impact down whenever possible.”

This kind of “Pre-competitive collaboration” [PCC] can unlock and scale profitable innovations, elevate industry reputation, and expand solutions for a regenerative and sustainable future, all while fortifying trust that insulates against future controversy. This has been happening for years in the auto industry, with Toyota a notable forerunner.

PCC allows for accelerated advancement of standards and tools; generation and aggregation of “bigger” and therefore more useful data; development of new and more effective products, and compounding knowledge.

At its best, as with drug companies working together and with public and other private entities in “technology transfer” deals, licensing, and other open science environments, PCC can literally save millions of lives.

In summary, it’s likely a high-level coalition is already extant and ready to help us fulfill our aims — we can gain from their collective wisdom and add to it with our unique experience.

These organizations allow us to help hold our own industry accountable for responsible sourcing, transparency, worker safety, and other key measures.



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Simon Mainwaring

Simon Mainwaring

Founder/CEO brand consultancy, We First, bestselling author of We First and Lead With We, host of podcast, Lead With We.