Why transparency matters

Part of the problem with our current carbon auditing systems is that carbon footprint calculations and results are both opaque. commerical carbon audit standard businesses see their calculation methods as their propreitary IP, their secret sauce’ companies who sign up to them want to run the results past their PR departments before deciding whether to make them public.

This opacity leads to a negative spiral of greenwashing, and renders Carbon Auditing 1.0 unfit for purpose.

See Through Carbon is based on the notion that any serious solution must be free to use, open source, transparent and publicly visible.

Open Source Benefits

Our article about the Problem with current carbon auditing systems explains they’re beyond repair because they’re based on secrecy and money.

Any system that depends on competing proprietary carbon auditing standards, each with their proprietary IP, needing to keep their databases secret in order to monetise them, is fundamentally flawed and irredeemably corruptible.

That’s why See Through Carbon is based on the principles of radical transparency and open source. Open source can mean different things in different contexts, but See Through Carbon’s default position is to make as much of its data and source code public as possible.

Not being driven by profit enables us take this position. The Carbon Auditing 1.0 has become so normalised, we need to be explicit about why transparency is better, even though the principle is something we tell our children on a daily basis.

Transparency always trumps secrecy

At home, adults tell children that honesty is the best policy, and can explain why. Yet we often do the opposite once we enter the office.

Much of business competition depends on creating information asymmetry’, profiting from knowing information denied to your competitors. Secrecy is the reason we have industrial espionage, intellectual property, patents and secret sauces.

This may work well for increasing profit, but it’s proved to be disastrous for reducing carbon. By aping the models of big business, carbon auditing standards have condemned themselves to replicate their faults.

See Through Carbon pilot transparency policy

Companies are not used to making their carbon footprint public. It’s still seen as a discretionary PR choice, rather than a fiduciary duty, like publishing your annual accounts. If you’re not obliged to publish your accurate carbon footprint, and can gain credit for paying one of the current commercial carbon standards to give you a carbon neutral’ rating, this is understandable, but disastrous for climate change.

Changing this mindset from opacity to transparency is one of Carbon Auditing 2.0’s biggest challenges, and a major obstacle faced by the See Through Carbon pilot. Candidate SMEs instinctively view their carbon footprints as commercial sensitive information, and fear the consequences of See Through Carbon producing a worse’ score than current standards.

The point of the See Through Carbon methodology is that it’s not comparing a company’s score’ to existing commercial standards. It’s just measuring the actual carbon footprint as accurately as current practice permits.

Any sustainable future has to change this attitue, but how can the See Through Carbon convince reluctant SMEs to risk’ publishing their real carbon footprints, instead of greenwash ones?

Public Mode v Stealth Mode

Our solutioni is to give any SMEs signing up the choice between Public Mode and Stealth Mode.

Public Mode

  • the SME gives consent for the data from reporting via the See Through Carbon app to be stored on See Through Carbon’s secure database
  • the See Through Carbon algorithm generates an Absolute Score for reporting upwards, and a Relative Score to rank you among your peers
  • a summary of your company’s carbon footprint, along with carbon reducing consultancy advice and your carbon footprint history/​progress is publicly visible via a web page derived from this database
  • your public page qualifies you for Free Advertising and Free Consultancy

Stealth Mode

  • the SME gives consent for the data from reporting via the See Through Carbon app to be stored on See Through Carbon’s secure database
  • the See Through Carbon algorithm generates an Absolute Score for reporting upwards, and a Relative Score to rank you among your peers
  • you get a report of your Absolute and Relative scores, but your carbon footprint information and scores are kept hidden from public access
  • you don’t qualify for Free Advertising or Free Consultancy

  • is what we need to educate other SMEs on how to reduce their carbon footprints

What See Through Carbon does with your data

We need to store your data for 5 main purposes: to verify and audit your data to provide the free consultancy services we’re offering. to provide the free Absolute carbon footprint data required by clients for their carbon reports to fairly calibrate your Relative 1 – 100 score & Green/​Amber/​Red rating * to publish on your publicly-visible summary page

Why making your carbon footprint public matters

Until now, carbon reporting has been optional for most SMEs. Rather than being a core part of their business, it’s seen as an extension of PR strategy. Pay a commercial standard to give you some kind of green badge, and use it to advertise your green credentials to potential customers who like seeing official-lookoing Carbon Neutral Company’ imprimaturs, without being too bothered about the methodology by which these are calculated.

Everyone’s happy, but all this has nothing do to with reducing the amount of carbon that business produces.

It’s understandable why many SMEs’ instinctive first reaction to the idea of publicly displaying their carbon-related outputs and track record is wariness. Why take the reputational risk of looking bad, when my competitors all have Carbon Neutral’ green stickers all over their website?

Understandable, but also illustrative of the problem. If we don’t start to be honest and transparent about our carbon footprints, how are we ever going to reduce them?

Transparency is what guarantees See Through Carbon’s integrity. Measuring carbon footprints accurately and openly sharing the data is essential to improving standards for everyone.

We only collect carbon-related data, nothing financial. Your company’s annual report is publicly available on the Companies House website ‑think of this as the carbon equivalent.

The choice is yours — See Through Carbon will always require explicit consent to store your data, and will only make it public with your separate, specific, informed consent. This will be make clear by selecting Public Mode or Stealth Mode. Here are the upsides and downsides to consider.

Public Mode

Select Public Mode, and a summary of your carbon footprint data, along with your score and Green/​Red/​Amber rating will be publicly visible.

Pros
  • you’ll be a pioneer in shifting carbon auditing from its current voluntary, marginal, gamable status, to being taken as seriously as our financial auditing system. See this article for more.
  • you’ll benefit from free professional carbon-reduction consultancy worth hundreds of pounds.
  • you’ll be able to publicly claim to be the first SME in your community to reject spurious, paid-for, greenwashing carbon neutral labels, and take carbon reporting seriously. There can only ever be one first adopter.
  • you’ll get 50 free ads in local Facebook Notice Boards, whatever your score, as a early-adopter bonus for the pilot.
Cons:
  • you risk appearing to be less green’ than your local competitors, who use paid-for standards to give them the carbon neutral’ all-clear.

Stealth Mode

If you opt for Stealth Mode, you’re trusting See Through Carbon to use your anonymised data to improve the standard, but not make it public.

Pros:
  • you’ll get your private Absolute and Relative scores to act on as you choose, including reporting your Absolute score upwards to larger customers
Cons:
  • you won’t qualify for free consultancy to improve your score.
  • you won’t get the benefit of free advertising after our Pilot offer of 50 free ads expires
  • you won’t be able to display your rating on your website using the widget
  • you can’t claim any reputational advantage as an early adopter to demonstrate you take carbon reduction seriously.

What information will appear publicly?

The only data we collect is related to the emissions generated by your business — nothing financial.

The exact appearance of your publicly visible page is still being developed, and will be fine-tuned once our data visualisation experts have a real-world database to work from.

When we decide on the public-facing page, we’ll show you exactly what will appear, so you can make your decision. We will require your explicit consent before we make your page public.

Future Proofing

This is the key point for SMEs to consider. If you have big businesses as clients, they will soon be asking you to report accurate carbon footprint upwards if they’ve not already done so. Even if you don’t, it’s only a matter of time before the same stringent carbon reporting requirements filter down to SME level in any case.

This is because the consequences of international agreements like the Paris Accord are starting to percolate down to ordinary SMEs. To comply with their own carbon auditing requirements for international agreements and target, governments everywhere are requiring less guesswork, and more real-world data.

They’re starting with the biggest companies, but this will rapidly trickle down to their SME supply chain, because This article explains why in detail) but this is basically because: Scope 2 reporting requires businesses to include the energy used by their supply chain . 70% of all carbon emissions come from SMEs

Sooner or later, SMEs will receive a request to supply carbon footprint data. This request will soon become a demand, then a requirement in order to remain an accredited supplier.

So why not be ahead of the game?