Addressing Certification Shortcomings

Part of Radical Transparency Means Coming Clean and Addressing Failures

Why It Matters

A gesture toward transparency, means data, details, and corroboration--those verifiable points about a social impact business. How to differentiate between the structures? The third in a series.

In the first two parts of this series, we explored the abundance of certification standards and new emerging models of transparency. Alternatively, some organizations have been radically transparent about their social impact, even when it means being honest about their shortcomings.

Last year, the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI), a co-working space in Toronto, published a demographic survey. It found that members who are white (European descent) are over-represented at CSI, comprising 63 percent of CSI’s members, staff and volunteers, while in the city of Toronto, only 48 percent of people identify with this ethnic/racial grouping. “The percentage of people of colour, especially from Indigenous and black communities, is not representative of the population of our city,” CSI admitted in the report.

Another Toronto-based organization, Engineers Without Borders, pioneered failure reports, which outlined the nonprofit’s failures and lessons learned. This inspired other organizations in the nonprofit sector, such as Impact Hub Ottawa, to openly share their failures. Ashley Good, who spearheaded this initiative, went on to create Fail Forward, a consulting firm that helps organizations learn and build resilience from failure.  

Open Letter from MEC. Part of Future of Good's series on failure and radical transparency

Chi Nguyen, Director of Social Innovation Canada, says while the charitable and nonprofit sectors have generally embraced the need for transparency, other sectors such as technology lag far behind. While some may make token statements of embracing diversity or closing a gender pay gap, buy-in at the executive level may be missing.

In the for-profit space, companies like tentree, a clothing company based in Vancouver with a strong environmental mission, demonstrates transparency by disclosing the factory locations of its suppliers. Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) was the first Canadian company to do this, providing detailed information on their supply chain, including disclosing information on factories they work with around the world, with the majority being in China and Vietnam.

Last year, David Labistour, CEO of MEC, issued an open letter on diversity. “We’ve let our members down,” he wrote, regarding the use of predominantly white models in the company’s advertisements and campaigns. “We know we’ve been part of the problem, and we’re committed to learning from our mistakes,” the letter reads.

These voluntary disclosures—and occasional admittance of mis-steps—exceed what certifications can show.

Knowing a company’s history and true commitment to social values is something that can’t always be shown through a label, Brans says. “It’s really up to the consumer to do their research and not take these labels as gospel.”