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Monday, April 5, 2010

Guest Post CERES - Radical Transparency and Social Media Tools

Last week I wrote a post on highlights from CERES recently published ‘Roadmap for Sustainability’ regarding connectivity and communications. Andrea Moffat added an insightful response to the post, which follows below (with permission) as a guest post. Andrea is the Senior Director of Corporate Programs and oversees Ceres’ Corporate Accountability, Corporate Governance, and Corporate Outreach programs. She was also lead author of the report.

As Kevin draws out from the Ceres Roadmap—connectivity and communication are key elements of the new business reality for the 21st Century Corporation. As a telecommunications company, BT is working to leverage its own expertise to develop sustainability solutions. BT’s “work anywhere” tools have eliminated 1.5 million journeys per year, with an associated 58% reduction in carbon emissions. The environmental and social benefits of increased connectivity are clear—but as Kevin also points out, there are potential downfalls.

Kevin's comment regarding the risks that companies face from "radical transparency" is particularly ripe for further conversation. True enough, this era of social media lends itself to "short-termism," exactly the kind of thinking that has allowed companies to ignore risks from issues like climate change for far too long. Social media makes companies more vulnerable to criticism, and as Kevin notes, to “trial by public opinion.” Yet social media also presents companies with an extraordinary opportunity to actively engage with stakeholders in real time. Social media tools can be used by companies like BT to further engage stakeholders in constructive and candid dialogue. The short-termism that results from the "social networking news cycle" can and should be part of that discussion. For example, Timberland's "Voices of Challenge" forum offers stakeholders the opportunity to comment on controversial issues that affect the company. It takes boldness, yes, but those companies that embrace and leverage the opportunities offered by this era of "radical transparency" find that their efforts are rewarded through improved trust and credibility among stakeholders.

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