Are You Certified?

The Proliferation of Transparency Standards Means There Is No Common Measure

Why It Matters

Transparency is the new black. For some impact-focused organizations, this may include disclosing data on diversity or pay equity and for others it may involve voluntary certifications. Either way, it's here to stay. The first in Future of Good’s Radical Transparency series.

B Corporation is a certification which involves rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. But even this certification, which is widely known in the world of impact, is not mainstream enough, says Chi Nguyen, Director of Social Innovation Canada. “If I was walking down the street and asked the bus driver, I don’t think they would know about B corps,” she says.

B Corp Canada. Updated the impact assessment. Q&A from Future of Good.

MediaStyle, a public affairs agency in Ottawa, is certified by Wagemark, a label which shows the gap between a company’s highest- and lowest-earning employee. Wagemark has a three to one ratio. Compare this to Canada’s top companies where CEOs make over 200 times the average worker’s salary, according to a study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

These are some of countless certifications available to demonstrate adherence to social values.

Due to this abundance and the ease in which they can be created, some experts question their validity.

“Consumers cannot make informed choices without having data,” says Marjorie Brans, the Co-Managing Director of the School for Social Entrepreneurs Ontario. “At the same time, I think there is a proliferation of certifications and some are meaningful and others are not. If we’re all moving towards certifications and you have some consumers who don’t know which ones are useful, then we’re moving back to a place where there is no transparency,” Brans explains.

One of Nguyen’s favourite brands is Inner Fire Apparel, a New Westminister, B.C. company that makes lifestyle and yoga gear from sustainable and recycled products. The company however, doesn’t hold any certifications, which means conscious consumers who are solely focused on this may miss out on supporting an ethical brand. Brans says that small social enterprises may not be able to comply with certifications due to lack of funds or a complex supply chain.

Lack of transparency isn’t a sign that companies are irresponsible, it may just be a reflection of the culture, Brans notes. “I noticed quite a difference when I moved from the U.S.,” she says. “I have noticed in Canada a cultural bias toward organizational privacy.” She says one of the reasons for this may be the limited funding for social enterprises. Canadian organizations who compete for this funding may be less likely to be transparent with their struggles.