Does transparency actually increase sales?

As the sustainable design movement becomes increasingly mainstream, the focus of of green marketing has shifted. It used to be about telling the green story as fully as possible; now it is about transparency. Every part of a product's environmental impact needs to be documented and discussed, positive or negative, so designers can make informed, accurate decisions.

The concern many manufacturers have is that such a high level of transparency will hinder, rather than help, sales. "If we disclose our negative information and our competitor doesn't," goes the argument, "we'll lose sales to them!" Is the goodwill generated by full disclosure enough to offset the potential impact of revealing your dirty secrets?

Seth Godin thinks so.

In a recent blog post, Godin came out as a strong advocate for transparency. "When book reviews are posted," he says, "sales go up." As he says about a new law in Iowa,
If every chicken coop has a video camera in it, quality will obviously go up. Confidence in the product will go up. Employee behavior will improve as well, because it's hard to torture a chicken if you know you're going to get caught.

His theory is that full disclosure, and allowing people in to see your process, gets them more engaged with the quality of your product. In his example above, people will pay more for better chicken.

Does this hold true for construction?

I believe it does. Look at the post-LEED green movement; the amount of sustainable construction is increasing, but the rate of LEED certification is going down. Designers have changed the way they design - USGBC's original goal - and have outgrown the structure and limitations created by LEED.

To achieve that, however, they need information. Lots of it.

Godin describes avoiding transparency as a "race to the bottom". In other words, who can hide the most about their product and deceive customers? Better to race to the top. Your company's disclosure creates a pressure for your competitors to comply, because as designers learn you offer the transparency they will become conditioned to ask your competitors for it as well.