From flawed to flawsome

As any teenager who’s reversed Mum’s sedan into a parking building pillar knows, you’re far better off just fronting up about it than trying to put bumper stickers over the damage. And lately, the same goes for businesses. reckons brands will benefit more from publicising their blunders than stuffing them under the rug and hoping nobody notices the lumps.

Since consumers don’t expect companies to be without issues or environmental impacts, the theory goes, they’ll gravitate towards honest brands that are open about their problems and show humility and humour in dealing with them. And there’s a puntastic word for this: flawsome.

Early adopters include Puma, which began making their sustainability reports public in 2001. Puma acknowledged the garment industry was responsible for busting up eco systems and using more than its fair share of the planet’s natural resources, so it raised awareness of the industry’s problems and let public scrunity keep it accountable and on track with its sustainability goals.

Outdoor clothing brand Patagonia ran a full-page ad in the New York Timeswith the headline ‘DON’T BUY THIS JACKET’, detailing the waste produced in manufacturing it and encouraging readers not to splurge unless they really needed one. Of course, Patagonia cunningly sneaked in a few remarks about the durability of their clothing, too.

The key is total transparency. You can’t be candid just about the part of your business that’s doing really well – you’ve got to throw it all out there. The minute you start hiding the serious flaws, you’re greenwashing.

But if you’re in the business of manufacturing flux capacitors, say, and the tungsten you use possibly originates from a central African warlord who uses his mining profits for terror and destruction, tell your customers. Make it public knowledge you can’t trace your entire supply chain – but you’re genuinely trying to – and greenies with Deloreans would much rather buy one from you than from the guy who doesn’t care if his tungsten’s from the Congo.

Consumers are less worried about you doing the wrong thing if they can see your honest attempts to do the right thing.

Rebekah White is deputy editor of Good magazine

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