It started with Sara.

It was not until the mid-80s that transparency in corporations became commonplace. It was not expected for companies to divvy out information that gave away their CEO or CFO’s salary, the conditions of their workers or even releases of toxic chemicals from factories. It was not until Sara.

Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (Sara) was a new law in the 80s, pushing for what we now expect from a big corporation- transparency. Section 313, in particular, called for companies to publish reports of releases of toxic chemicals from their factories. Suddenly, companies had more to compete for that just stock and market value- it became about the world

Sara kick started a revolution that soon had companies competing to not top the list of corporations emitting the most toxins. Naturally, companies began to emit fewer toxins, appear to be more environmentally conscious and put on the white hat that is now transparency.

While transparency is perceived to be a good thing, companies have become so transparent that the public is unable to decipher what it truly meaningful in the general sense. From CEO salaries, toxin emissions to workforce diversity, everything is measured and accounted for with no means of comparing one company’s results to another. Reports are turned out with hundreds of pages with no overarching key of comparison.

Company A puts out X amount of toxins and company B emits Y more. But on top of that company A does a myriad of things in the name of CSR as well as company B, though neither companies are recording activities that can be compared; rather, they are just perceived to be for the greater good. This in turn leaves the public with more information than can be digested by a means of measurement. Corporate Sustainability has ultimately left us with reams and reams of qualitative information and no means to the quantitative answer that can be digested by the greater public.

We’ve finally reached a point where corporations are transparent, maybe even too transparent. We have been left with more information than we can consume and are only in need of a way to make sense of it. An example made in the article is of the FDAs “nutrition labels.” While all food is made up of countless things that can be labeled to inform us, the FDA narrowed all this information down into what we see on everything- nutrition labels. It’s been made easy to compare the value of one food to another through understandable terms. It’s unified and clear. It’s what corporations need.

In an age where transparency is commonplace, clarity and unity is on the horizon.

References

Mohin, Tim. The Guardian. 11 Sept. 2014. “Are sustainability reports driving change or just ‘losing the signal’?”Accessed 15 Sept. 2014. Theguardian.com. http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2014/sep/11/corporate-responsibility-reporting-transparency-toxic-emissions-labeling-change

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