Greater disclosure + more clarity + more accuracy = More transparency
More transparency = more trustworthiness + better relations with your stakeholders = More success!
That’s the simple formula. But what does it mean for an organization to be more transparent and how to build up a transparent communication with your stakeholders?
Transparency brings light to the work you are doing. Therefore, if you are doing good work — manage the forests ecologically and socially responsible, as well as profitable — everyone can see the results.
However, everyone can also see if you are not performing, whether with good or bad intentions. Once the trust is broken, there’s almost no amount of transparency that will help us to remedy our reputation damage.
Having this in mind, it becomes obvious why only sound and sustainably managed forest projects are in a position to publicly disclose internal information and create more transparency and researchability.
The vulnerability of being more transparent has become a competitive advantage. Being open and generous with information reduces the risk for your stakeholders to work with you, as they can better understand your intentions and judge you on your work results.
Understanding creates trust and believe in your work, leading to a network of supporting partnerships.
But how to create transparency and trust?
Selected information: The old way.
The old way of creating trust in your organization and brand has been through penetrance and based on selected information.
Organizations spend a lot of money to distribute ads about their organization and brands. These advertising convey very selected and mostly information with a positive connotation. Through a massive presence, they are trying to penetrate our consciousness and making us believe in their products and services. In some cases with success. Yes, we drink those soft-drinks despite high sugar content and despite that, the cans in which they are packaged, are not environmentally friendly.
In the old way of communicating, the forest project organization carefully picks the information they want to send via annual reporting document to their stakeholders. Self-critical information is often left out.
Indirect transparency through certification.
The missing transparency in the “old way of communication” and the demand for reliable information by the stakeholders has led to the evolvement of certification schemes. Independent third-party auditing organizations regularly audit the compliance of organizations with a respective certification standard. Sounds bureaucratic? Yes, it requires considerable time and resources!
In the field of sustainable forestry two voluntary certification schemes have become very popular: FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification). Both offer voluntary certification systems to certify sustainable forest management practices and track and label wood products from the forests to their final markets.
FSC certified projects manage their forests and Chain of Custody according to a set of principles & criteria. Compliance is reviewed in regular and independent audits. Transparency is indirect, however, significantly increased.
Open data: The new way.
Transparency not only depends on the communication style and the used tools. It needs to be intrinsic and has to be born out of a new and more open corporate culture. Transparency has to start inside the organization with greater disclosure, clarity, and accuracy (Schnackenberg & Tomlinson, 2014) and can than be expanded to the communication with stakeholders outside the organization.
When organizations decide to open their data to their employees, stakeholders or even the public, transparency increases radically. Further, the disclosure of information also changes the way of how communication takes place. The one-directional information stream from the forest project to the stakeholder has become a dialogue on an equal footing. Likewise, stakeholders have access to project information and can ask critical questions.
Organizations will benefit from being confronted with grievances immediately and can constantly improve. Clients and stakeholders will appreciate transparency and will become a supportive network.
Example of radical transparency
Some forerunners have taken the courage to publicly disclose their forest project data. More and more organizations are following.
The 1 Million Trees Program by Fairventures Worldwide is a great example of how opening the data has lead to an unprecedented level of transparency.