Ethical Consumer Week: How to make transparency meaningful

Ethical Consumer Week panel with Jessi Baker from Provenance.org
Image credit: Provenance founder speaks at Ethical Consumer Week

What is supply chain and impact transparency and what makes it valuable? Our CEO & founder Jessi Baker spoke at Ethical Consumer Week 2020 to explore the line between what’s progress and what’s simply marketing. She also shared why transparency without proof is, in itself, meaningless. See the three things brands should be doing, and what we should all be looking out for…


The inaugural Ethical Consumer Week, spearheaded by the team behind the sustainability magazine of the same name, aims to bring people together to share challenges and a “radically reimagined future”. The aim is to inspire and determine actions that will spread change around the topic of “building resilient communities”.

Along with Charlotte Instone, founder of fashion brand Know The Origin, and Rob Harrison, co-founder of Ethical Consumer, Jessi Baker, our Provenance founder and CEO, addressed why we must go beyond being individual ethical consumers and hold brands to account to benefit us all. 

“We recognise that there are many brands and retailers who are trying to do the right thing and want their shoppers and customers to pick products that have a positive impact on people and planet – or at least making meaningful progress towards it,” Jessi observed on opening to the audience.

What we see in the market, though, is that this is happening in many different ways. Retailers are sending Excel spreadsheets to brands to fill out with lots of data, brands are sending spreadsheets to suppliers to get information, and lots of different tools are being used by supply chain managers and sustainability teams to enable internal transparency.

But that information rarely makes it into the hands of customers in a format they can digest. It occasionally gets published through a CSR report – but is that data available when people are making purchasing decisions at the point of sale where it really matters?

At Provenance, we think that information should power how we choose products. Our purpose is to enable impact-led commerce and be the engine for powering the transparency to support that. 

For us, the three core pillars that make transparency meaningful are: consistency, comprehensiveness and credibility.

The Provenance Transparency Framework

The Provenance Transparency Framework offers a consistent structure for brands to talk about the work they’re doing.

1. Consistency

We see brands being more transparent, which is fantastic, but if everybody talks about things in a completely different way with a completely new set of icons – it isn’t very helpful. 

Certifications have helped us come a long way, and we absolutely need them, but there are lots of other things that we need to make transparent in order to tell a complete picture (beyond what a certification body covers, e.g. being a ‘female-owned’ business). 

What we’re trying to do is to help with that consistency so that when you see a brand claiming recyclability of packaging, it means the same thing every time you see it rather than different things – which is the case today.

Provenance Proof Points on Cult Beauty

Provenance Proof Points are interactive, enabling shoppers to click through to more information and evidence.

2. Comprehensiveness

Provenance is trying to help create transparency that’s not just a claim – but is a claim that you can dig into. This means you would be able to see what it means to meet that particular standard. You can gain access to more information and data from independent third parties in order to help educate you on what these things really mean in situ. 

It doesn’t matter where you are shopping on the web, you can actually dive into that rabbit hole, in situ, and find out what the information means.

Napolina transparency with Provenance.org

Napolina bringing credibility to their marketing with Provenance

3. Credibility

The majority of our customers come to Provenance to reinforce their credibility. It’s one thing to make a claim about your product being better for the world  – but what we need is credible claims.

Integrity is the next battlefield for transparency. We know many brands are purpose-driven and they’re all telling stories about sustainability – that’s happening now. The next step is to have authentic stories and have integrity to back up your claims. 

A lot of what we do at Provenance is enabling credible data to come together from across organisations in order to make claims that can actually be verified and defended. 

These three ingredients create transparency that goes beyond a single ‘ethical consumer’ and becomes a system that can enable:

  1. Brands to be held to account
  2. Businesses and citizens to collaborate on what’s important 
  3. Support for more purposeful purchases

See our latest work across FMCG brands to see how we’re using our framework to underpin meaningful transparency.