The Quintessential Example of the Power of Transparency

One of the central themes of this website is the importance of transparency, and since I refer to it so much I wanted a single page with a great example of the power of transparency to be able to link to. I may come back and flesh this out further, but I think this one example is all you really need to know about the power of transparency to have profound impact.

A favorite story of famed System Theory thinker Donella Meadows is the quintessential example of the power of transparency. Writing in her really fn awesome Thinking In Systems *ad international bestseller:

“In 1986, new federal legislation, the Toxic Release Inventory, required U.S. companies to report all hazardous air pollutants emitted from each of their factories each year. Through the Freedom of Information Act (from a systems point of view, one of the most important laws in the nation), that information became a matter of public record.

In July 1988, the first data on chemical emissions became available. The reported emissions were not illegal, but they didn’t look very good when they were published in local papers by enterprising reporters, who had a tendency to make lists of “the top ten local polluters.”

That’s all that happened. There were no lawsuits, no required reductions, no fines, no penalties. But within two years chemical emissions nationwide (at least as reported, and presumably also in fact) had decreased by 40 percent. Some companies were launching policies to bring their emissions down by 90 percent, just because of the release of previously withheld information.

Meadows, Donella H.. Thinking in Systems (p. 173). Chelsea Green Publishing. Kindle Edition.

When arguing in favor of transparency, that right there is kind of a mic drop…

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