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Sustainability and Business Ethics

Society is beginning to wake up to the damage that manufacturers and businesses cause to the environment and people, and is demanding more responsible and sustainable practices. Companies are feeling pressure to limit their use and waste of precious resources like water and non-renewable energy. They must prevent deadly toxic exposure, and provide prompt waste cleanup when negligence occurs. Through the recent rapid increase of globalization, there is a mounting awareness of how poorly humans, animals, and ecosystems are being treated around the world by irresponsible economic titans like Apple, Nike, Shell, BP, and many others. Thousands of stories circulate about how workers at the bottom of the production of products and services experience unbelievable mistreatment and unfairness. They fail to receive living wages while corporate profits are through the roof. Greed has taken over every aspect of operations. Textile manufacturing and agriculture are two industries that are known as worst offenders for human rights violations.
Aside from extreme poverty, abuse is rampant. Millions of people live and work in threateningly unsafe conditions, for long hours with no breaks. Factory ceilings collapse on a regular basis, killing thousands. In America, heatstroke affects Amazon warehouse workers causing them to drop like flies. Even in less harsh positions, employees are often discriminated against with no legal recourse. Treating humans as a commodity leads to a low quality of life, little opportunity, and growing income inequality. These problems exist in even the most developed societies today.
This model is obviously unsustainable long-term. People are tired of being taken advantage of and are ready to boycott. Organizations are being forced to adopt green strategies to better everyone’s future. To survive, they have to switch to better practices. Instead of passively depending on them to do the right thing, we all need to hold them accountable. We can do this by setting standards for the businesses we patronize, like expecting them to report regularly on their sustainability efforts. These reports include both positive and negative information about the progress an organization is making on social and environmental goals. In order for sustainability reporting to be effective, an unwavering demand of transparency is the first step.
Transparency involves the incorporation of feedback from all stakeholders, including employees, vendors and the community at large. Information about every aspect of a corporation’s practices needs to be fully disclosed. In addition, it must be clear, accurate, and free from unethical spin.
Another part of green strategy embraces the development of employee skills. No matter the job, training can give a person greater opportunity both immediately and down the road. Having a range of talented and educated individuals will make it easier to optimize organizational strategy so that it has the best global impact.
It's up to us, the consumers, to keep companies honest and accountable. Investigating which companies are being honest, and which are only worried about public image is paramount in determining who to support. Your dollar counts, and only shopping at ethical retailers is a way for you to personally impact change. How does it matter? Here are a few ways.

  • Help the environment - Don’t give known polluters an incentive to continue their harmful ways. Making money is the only reason some of these companies are in business. If they don’t hit their profit goals, they will be forced to change. Ethical companies will put a share of revenue toward rescuing endangered species, alternative energy sources, and preservation of natural resources.
  • Increase health - Reduce exposure to pesticides and harmful chemicals by buying only natural products.
  • Give opportunity to small farmers, agricultural workers, and micro-businesses around the world. The Fair Trade Federation requires members to support independence of producers, instead of keeping them down.
  • Promote humane treatment of animals.
  • Create safe working conditions.
  • Benefit from higher quality items.
  • Protect rural communities - If economic opportunities cease to exist in remote areas, people will be forced to live in cities just to survive. This will create a long list of new problems to tackle.

Current Trends

Specific problems are getting attention in sustainability efforts right now because time is swiftly running out. This is especially true with concern to environmental efforts, because a lack of water, healthy air, and energy will cause all systems to come to a grinding halt. Under this worst case scenario, no one will make it out alive, much less with money. Some rich executive survivalists may not care, because they plan to provide for only themselves after they finish consolidating the world's resources under their personal control through free market capitalism. But we won’t let that happen.
In an effort to work together, a few common ideas seem to be gaining traction.

  • Expectations for most companies to report on greenhouse gas and water waste reduction efforts. A larger conversation is being had about how to handle natural resource shortages. Talking about this has gone on long enough, and we are ready for some answers. It is time for feet to be held to the fire.
  • Involvement of Chief Financial Officers to take responsibility for giving back, instead of just taking.
  • Highlighting the value of employee well-being, with consequences for disregard.
  • Universal rating and ranking systems. Let everyone see how bad these corporations are.

Companies Who Care

A handful of businesses are going the extra mile when it comes to sustainability efforts. Every year since 2002, Corporate Knights has been ranking world corporations based on their consciousness. We’ll show you some brands for 2016 who went above and beyond in making the world a better place.
This Italian company plants a tree for every watch they sell. To date, they have placed over 400,000 trees in reforestation projects worldwide. By 2020, their goal is to be one million saplings deep. A high level of mindfulness goes into their product as well. Most timepieces are crafted from recycled scrap wood.
In 2015, BMW made strides in using more renewable energy during production. They increased the diversity of their global workforce and reduced CO2 emissions by 50%.
The German apparel giant has been working with the UN to hold manufacturing partners to the highest human rights standards. They have been minimizing paper use through consolidating designs for hang tags and other packaging. Adidas prints using soy and water-based inks, and makes boxes out of 100% recycled cardboard.
One of the former worst offenders in the United States has turned over a new leaf. This past year Coca-Cola donated $84.5 million to 300 organizations. To enable the economic empowerment of 5 million women entrepreneurs by 2020, they created 5by20. For more information about the program, check out this infographic.
France’s beloved cosmetic company has made a commitment against testing products or ingredients on animals. They are working to reduce the wage gap between men and women while pursuing a goal of a 60% environmental footprint by 2020.
H&M is the first fashion company to launch a global garment collection initiative. Customers can donate used clothing to be recycled and made into new textiles. At the same time, they are pioneering a fair living wage for industry workers. Their partnership with the World Wildlife Foundation has launched an initiative for water conservation.

It is not unheard of for sustainability unfriendly companies to construct press stories to make themselves look like they’re part of the green initiative. The term greenwashing can mean lying about a company’s sustainable practices or products. There are too many offenders to name, but some recent examples are especially provocative.
This well-known car manufacturer has received past recognition for sustainability efforts. Unfortunately, it was all a ruse. They are accused of developing software to fool emissions tests by giving false readings...

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