I posted yesterday about the difference between an ‘ethical business’ and a ‘normal’ one, and it generated quite a debate on my Facebook page around what ethical actually means, especially in terms of a business.
I did a spot of googling and apparently the word ethical comes from the Greek ethos meaning “moral character” and describes a person or behaviour as right in the moral sense – truthful, fair, and honest. It relates to our beliefs around what is right and wrong.
And I guess that’s where some of the confusion lies – each of us has our own moral compass, our own values, and our own definition of right and wrong, and therefore possibly our own unique definitions and expectations of ethical business.
So I guess I can’t really tell you what it means to be an ethical business. All I can tell you is my definition of an ethical business, the things I take into account when I am choosing who to give my money to when I need to buy something. Your values, the emphasis you place on different aspects of a business, will be different to mine. But I think it’s really worth spending some time thinking about what ‘ethical business’ means to you, both in terms of the kind of business you want to run, and the companies that you want to spend your money with.

For me, an ethical business is one that ensures that every aspect of it’s business, and it’s products is designed with people and planet in mind:
– raw materials are sourced responsibly and sustainably;
– products are created by people paid a living wage working in safe conditions;
– any waste that is created can be recycled or re-used;
– products are designed for longevity and to be repaired, rather than simple used up and chucked away;
– packaging is minimised and is designed to be easily recyclable or re-used;
– and at the end of it’s life, the product can be recycled rather than sent to rot in landfill;
– profits are invested back into the business, or used for social/environmental impact elsewhere – they don’t just line the shareholder’s pockets;
– taxes are paid.

The whole concept of an ethical business, and in recognising ethical businesses is a complicated one – not only are there different schemes like ‘organic’ and ‘fair-trade’ and ‘farm-assured’ but there are also so many different terms too: ethical business, social enterprise, conscious business, good business.
As business owners, or aspiring entrepreneurs, we need to get clear about our own values, our morals, and what ‘ethical’ means to us. And then work out how best to tell our story and let our customers know the added value that we offer – how they can give us their money and not only get the product or service that they want, but that their money can make a real difference too.

And while it might be difficult to define exactly what the ethical part of an ethical business means, the one thing we need to all be really clear about, is the business part of it.
Our businesses need to make money. They need to be financially sustainable.
If we are to create good, to have a positive impact on the planet and our society, we need to be viable to create the most good we can, for as long as we can.
If we don’t value ourselves, our services, the products we create, then we end up not getting paid and burning out. Our businesses go down the pan, along with any potential to make a better world.

I’d love to hear what ‘ethical business’ means to you, and how you ensure that your values are reflected in your enterprise. Leave a comment to let me know, or carry on the discussion over on my Facebook page 🙂