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Do you run an ethical business?

Diane Hall


Eco-Friendly disposable tableware on the white table and, set of various products

In this day and age, you can’t just be a bog-standard business owner, you’ve to also be a crusader of the Earth, adhering to environmental guidelines and green initiatives.

Being a green business is something most companies do with their eyes closed nowadays. The current thing on society’s agenda is ensuring businesses are ethical.

There may be some crossover with the definition of an ethical business and being environmentally-friendly—after all, your business isoperating ethically if it’s being responsible about its impact on the planet and if it’s reducing as much waste and emissions as possible.

Many of a business’s green initiatives will likely be practical in nature, whereas ethics tend to concern the value and culture of a business, both within the company and how it’s perceived by others.

Fast fashion is one industry that has come under fire for its ethics over recent years, with many businesses using child labour and so-called ‘sweatshops’—this is so that they can keep prices low for consumers whilst still raking in the profit. The price for their garments must remain competitive for them to stay in business; any investment into the working conditions or health and safety of the people who actually make the clothes they stock has to come from the business owner’s pocket—which is why this doesn’t happen. If only greed was a gene that could be isolated and removed, situations like this probably wouldn’t exist.

Good ethics can be a selling point as consumers become more conscious about where they spend their money. Cosmetic brands that don’t test their products on animals will, quite rightly, shout about this, knowing that many customers will choose their brand because of such ethics.

In our competitive world, it isn’t enough to simply meet green and ethical guidelines. The best companies won’t settle for ‘not adding to a problem’, they will also strive to contribute to its solution. Conscious Coffee is one such brand. Many coffee companies bear the ‘Fairtrade’ logo and pay decent wages to coffee producers in third-world countries. After all, if the producer can’t farm their land properly or keep in business, this would impact the supply of the beans these Fairtrade brands need to make their coffee.

Wind and Solar power plant

Wind and Solar power plant

Conscious Coffee goes further than this, however. Not only do they ensure their coffee farmers/producers are well looked after, they’ve developed various outreach programmes that benefit entire communities. These community initiatives have no direct impact on Conscious Coffee’s production, yet they believe strongly in helping the less fortunate. Their CAFÉ Likelihoods programme even helps people in countries such as Mexico and Guatemala launch their own coffee businesses.

It’s important to be honest about your company and its ethics. The very last thing you need is for your ethical actions to be exposed as false or exaggerated. The negative press and lack of trust your company would attract is just not worth the risk.

That said, it’s difficult for small businesses to show their ethics, even though most have the flexibility and freedom to design their company how they want. This is because accreditation often comes with a price tag that’s out of reach for the average start-up. They may also be overlooked for awards in favour of larger companies and well-known brands.

On the other hand, because small business owners don’t tend to have shareholders to answer to, they can make business decisions based on impact, rather than how much profit it may make.

Ethics should not be confined to the products you sell, they should also include how you treat your employees and suppliers. You can have the greenest, most ethical operational processes, but if you bully your staff, pay them less than they’re worth and instil a culture of fear within company premises, all your good work in the public domain will be wasted. Word will out—you can’t keep such treatment quiet for long. And if you don’t value your suppliers, you may find that they refuse to do business with you. Their opinion of your company will also travel.

Employees today commonly choose who they work for based on the culture of the company and its values. We’re at work for many hours each week, and though we may receive the going rate in our pay packets each month, if we feel unappreciated or suspect that we’re being treated unfairly, we may go to work for one of your competitors instead.

It’s not enough to say you’re an ethical business—you have to show this, to demonstrate it, it has to become a way of being.

Ethics and success are not either/or elements within a business. Some brands, like Conscious Coffee, are nailing their ethics, whilst still making a healthy profit. Could you do the same?

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