Demand is growing for increased transparency on impacts

Demand for increased transparency has been the topic of many conversations over the past few years. It has been highlighted by governments, in the UN Sustainable Development Goals and by the sustainability sector. The overarching call is for information to be readily available about supply chain practices and the impact of those practices. 

Key drivers and actions

Key drivers for increased transparency by sustainability systems include risk management, due diligence legislation, and the need to foster trust with supply chain stakeholders and consumers. Alongside these drivers, is an expectation within society that good quality information is readily available and not misleading. 

Working towards greater transparency on the impacts of sustainability systems can encompass many actions – from making information publicly available to understanding and evaluating impacts to regularly sharing data about results. However, transparency can be a vague term, and can be shallow or deep. For example, simply disclosing the content of a standard versus disclosing the process that went into setting the standard. 

Challenges and looking ahead

Discussion in these areas often leads to a focus on data and data tools. Leveraging the value of the data sustainability systems hold to increase transparency can present challenges.

Two common challenges are the cost and complexity associated with acquiring thorough data for a report and concern that those that are more transparent with their data are disproportionately scrutinised. However, looking ahead there are opportunities for overcoming these challenges and increasing transparency. 

Sustainability systems can continue to take advantage of the advances in technology and information availability, investing more in technologies like geospatial data and blockchain. In addition, there needs to be further recognition of the benefits that investing in data holds. As well as being used to increase transparency, data can be used in capacity building and to create a better value proposition, making the complications of collecting it worthwhile. 

Supporting our members to become better data managers is one of our priorities: data on impacts is important in building trust and a high level of transparency engenders trust. 

ISEAL member commitment to transparency

Transparency on impacts is one of the areas our members collaborate on and were brought together to discuss in a 2020 members’ month session. ISEAL members have a strong commitment to transparency: a key principle identified in our Credibility Principles and reflected in our Impacts Code. 

In the ISEAL Credibility Principles, which define the core values of credible and effective sustainability systems, the transparency principle states that an effective sustainability system enables stakeholders to understand and evaluate the system’s processes, decision-making, results, and impacts. 

Our Impacts Code, to which all Code Compliant members are independently evaluated against, has baseline and aspirational clauses for transparency.

Reporting trends

With increased transparency on the up, reporting trends are starting to emerge. This has seen an increase in impacts and outcome evaluation reports published as systems wish to show the impact they are having on the ground. Meanwhile, performance monitoring reports are becoming more comprehensive, with a shift from reporting on reach and scope to reporting on outcomes.

Within the ISEAL community there are more than 130 performance and impacts reports published on Evidensia. Evidensia is a valuable transparency tool. It helps users and stakeholders understand the scope of credible evidence on the sustainability impacts and effectiveness of supply chain initiatives and tools. 

Sustainability systems need to be effective data managers to maintain increasing transparency on impacts. ISEAL continues to publish guidance and reports to help sustainability systems in this mission, and works with the ISEAL community on our remote auditing and polygon data projects to further explore the power of data. 

Sharing and analysing data helps with learning and improving effectiveness, while fostering trust with supply chain stakeholders and the consumer.