Brand Transparency In An Age Of Post-Truth

Arriving at this year’s annual MET Gala, supermodel Gisele Bündchen chose to grace the Green Carpet in a beautiful silver gown designed by Stella McCartney. Not a new emerald walkway, but a challenge to fashion’s elite to pair glamour and ethics, with the aim of raising the profile of global sustainability and social welfare.

Like so many industries, the inner workings of fashion, how the clothes are made, where the fabric comes from, is not the story that brands choose to tell. Whilst there are a growing number of ethical and transparent labels emerging, most of the time, we’re kept in the dark.

So, when a company like Stella McCartney not only catapults sustainable style into the spotlight, but publishes its first global environmental profit and loss account for the year dating 2015, a transparency benchmark is set for businesses of all kinds.

In a recent survey of over 10,000 consumers from around the world, 78% of consumers said it is ‘somewhat or very important for a company to be transparent.’ And 70% said that ‘these days I make it a point to know more about the companies I buy from’ (Havas, February 2016). Evidence that being good to the environment is also good for your bottom line.

These days data gets a bit of a bad rep, often painted as the very nadir of creativity. But it’s the creative use of data that’s helping us to better understand our impact on the environment. By using EP&L accounting, a company can now quantify its impact on the planet. As for our individual trace, smart meters can help us to monitor the energy we use and fitness apps encourage us to lead a more healthy lifestyle.

In Finland, financial institution, Bank of Åland, went one step further. They developed the Åland Index, a way of using data to calculate the individual carbon footprint of each credit card transaction, thus creating the first bank index for everyday environmental impact. Each bank statement comes with options for customers to offset their carbon footprint, locally, globally or by lifestyle. The visible correlation between action and consequence encourages customers to consider the bigger impact of their purchasing behaviour, whilst also positioning the bank as a responsible brand.

In an age of post-truth, transparency is more important than ever. Our access to information – over half of the population owns a smartphone – makes it easier to learn about the good, and bad, being done in the world. But it’s hard to work out who to trust: Volkswagen; the Panama Papers; giving £350m a week to the NHS; Hillary’s emails, the list goes on. When Donald Trump’s senior adviser Kellyanne Conway coined the term “alternative facts,” we seemed to enter a new Orwellian dimension.

“We inhabit a climate of trust as we inhabit an atmosphere and notice it as we notice air, only when it becomes scarce or polluted,” said the late philosopher Annette Baier. We may be in a post-truth age, but that’s exactly why brands should be leading the march towards a more transparent world.

This article originally appeared on BITE, Creativebrief‘s daily insight into global marketing trends and the cultural movements driving them.

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