Issue Of The Day: Transparency

Even cold water can’t douse the fire that reusable water bottle company SIGG found itself under this week. The company was berated in the news for deceptive claims after its CEO acknowledged that the liners of bottles produced before August 2008 contain traces of BPA, a substance that has raised significant health concerns in recent years. Elaine Shannon, editor-in-chief of the Environmental Working Group, notes SIGG’s current crisis is less about the actual presence of BPA and more about how the company chose to address the issue. Although company officials knew of the traces of BPA since June 2006, they did not address it publicly until last month.

The lack of transparency set off a torrent of angry blog posts, tweets and online articles by consumers who felt betrayed. The company has already begun to fight the damaging criticism through letters from the CEO and by establishing a program where consumers can opt to exchange their old bottle for a new one. However, the long-term damage to the brand and business will probably be deep.

Today’s 24/7 new media environment is forcing companies into greater transparency about their products, services and business practices, but just as some dig in their heels, there are also those companies who are going quite willingly. In the cleaning products and alcohol industries, not without their share of judgment for the social and environmental impacts of their products, two companies are raising the bar.

SC Johnson – Early in 2009, the company began voluntarily disclosing product ingredients via a Web site, toll-free hotline and on product labels. It will continue to add products over the next three years, aiming to have all ingredients for air care and home cleaning products available to the public by January 2012.

Brown-Forman – The spirits maker recently launched a Web site dedicated to addressing leading alcohol-related social issues, such as youth and alcohol and marketing and access. The site will serve as a forum for the company to share its own positions on the issues and also invites dialogue by allowing visitors to submit comments. Although it remains to be seen how it will use this public feedback, the company is nonetheless demonstrating its willingness to proactively acknowledge difficult issues and work toward collective solutions. According to Jim Bareuther, executive vice president of global business development, “It is an opportunity for us – and for all interested parties – to contribute to the ongoing dialogue and discussion about the role of alcohol in society and how to curtail abuse and promote responsible consumption.”

Those companies who take an active stance in providing concerned stakeholders with complete and accurate information and an opportunity to voice their positions will reap reputational benefits over the long-term, as well as the opportunity to continually innovate and improve their products, services and communications.


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