The non-profit world is currently being rocked by accusations that Greg Mortenson, author of the bestselling books Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools and co-founder of the Central Asia Institute (CAI), a non-profit organization that focuses on building schools in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, lied about some of the events in his books and may have misappropriated donations for personal use. Whether the allegations turn out to be true or false, it is possible that the reputations of Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute could be permanently damaged by the controversy.
The allegations against Mortenson and CAI drive home the importance of a lesson many of us are taught in childhood: honesty is the best policy. In recent years, this timeless principle has become a part of marketing lingo through the concept of “radical transparency.”
First described by Daniel Coleman in his book Ecological Intelligence, radical transparency is a policy that encourages full public disclosure of product information such as ingredients, supply lines, and manufacturing process. It is the antithesis of “greenwashing” because it offers consumers full disclosure of a product or service’s environmental and social impact, instead of meaningless green buzzwords designed to conceal the true environmental and social impact of a product or service.
Why choose a policy of radical transparency for your green business? Green consumers do not demand perfection. Though they typically ask that businesses wishing to be recognized as “green” go above and beyond simple “compliance” with green regulations, green consumers also recognize that no business can be 100% environmentally and socially responsible 100% of the time. Instead, they ask for honest appraisal of a business’s successes and failures in its effort to reduce harmful environmental and social impacts, and for genuine efforts to improve.
With a growing number of websites, mobile apps, eco labels, and other services dedicated to assessing the veracity of green marketing claims, green consumers are finding it easier than ever to find accurate information about the impacts of the products and services they are comparing. Type in the name of your favorite shampoo on a website such as GoodGuide, for example, and you’ll find detailed information on everything from ingredients suspected of harmful health impacts to the manufacturer’s annual estimated greenhouse gas emissions and presence in countries with oppressive dictatorships! With the number of dedicated green consumers rising and even many average consumers expressing a preference for “greener” products and services over comparable conventional ones, a policy of radical transparency may give your green business exactly the edge it needs over the competition.
In a world of rampant greenwashing and other misleading claims from marketers, radical transparency is a breath of fresh air for enthusiastic new green consumers and cynical old timers alike. By following the three simple principles of radical transparency – set high standards for your green business, honestly assess the successes and failures of your efforts to go green, and share the plans and actions you are making to improve – you will build strong brand loyalty and positive word of mouth for your business for many years to come.