How the web is pushing transparency

Sensemaking / How the web is pushing transparency

A new generation of online tools is offering the public an insiders’ view of business.

16 Jul 2012

A new generation of online tools is offering the public an insiders’ view of business.

Any forward-thinking brand wants to know its customers better, but a new generation o fonline tools is turning the trend on its head, by helping consumers get under the skin of their suppliers. Drawing on open sources of data and familiar formats, such as Google maps, these platforms collate information that was previously obscure, and present it in a more intuitive format. Of course, the most innovative companies are stripping down voluntarily.

Take the fashion label Rapanui, which specialises in organic materials. It offers an interactive online map which enables customers to track the impact of an appealing item from seed to shelf, taking its carbon and water footprints, toxicity, transport, and trade conditions into account. Buy a shirt, and you don’t just pick the print. You choose the one made with organic cotton grown in the Aegean, then cut and sewn in Izmir in a factory audited by Fair Wear Foundation, which gets a share of its energy from a photovoltaic array...

Rapanui is also offering less curious customers a shortcut in the form of an ecolabel, summarising the overall impact. “This ability to make a quick informed choice is something missing from, but entirely  compatible with, the high street”, co-founder Mart Drake-Knight explains. “It’s fast, easy and free – and it means that consumer buying power works with sustainability.”

He’s not the only one with this vision. Designer Bruno Pieters set up Honest by, a luxury fashion store which reveals meticulous details of the supply chain, from materials to manufacturing to distribution, down to the pricing structures [see 'Luxury: the new epitome of green values?'].

But it’s not just fashion that’s going see-through. Honest Buildings has created a profile for every building with an address in the US, with the aim of accelerating lowenergy, high-performance construction and retrofit. It collates details of a building’s size, efficiency ratings and LEED certification, allowing buyers, tenants or developers to make quick comparisons. It’s free to use, with an upgrade option for agents or owners wanting to promote particular innovations.

A quick search over Seattle tells you that the 102,975ft2 Joseph Vance office building on 3rd Avenue is Gold LEED certified, and also part of the city’s 2030 District – a public-private collaboration which has set out to prove that high-performance, low-carbon construction makes sense for investors. Shame on any neighbours who aren’t on board… Any questions? Honest Buildings also puts prospective tenants, occupants, service providers and the owners of a building in touch, through an online network. – Prina Shah

What might the implications of this be? What related articles have you seen?

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