There’s plenty of talk about the morals of money-making these days.

With students protesting in their thousands about climate change policy, plastic bags and straws beginning to disappear, and plant-based eating habits on the rise, environmental responsibility is a hot topic for many global citizens right now. We’re also becoming more aware of social injustice and inequality around the world, and many people expect businesses to do better.

Is it possible to make money and do good? We think it is. Let’s have a look at some ethical business models.

Is business inherently unethical?

Anand Giriharadas punctures the charitable auras of business leaders and corporations ‘dedicated’ to philanthrophy in his book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. He claims that charitable giving by harmful companies is nothing but a brazen publicity scheme - and we shouldn’t be allowing things to get so bad we need companies to save us.

“I don’t need Wall Street banks to donate $3m to a shelter for women. I need Wall Street banks to be regulated in ways that actually don’t allow them to put millions of women on the street when they create financial crises.”

It’s hard to fully agree with such sentiments when enterprises like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are responsible for saving thousands of lives through helping eradicate polio, or providing donations for disaster relief around the world. But it’s a fair point. Charitable endeavours shouldn't make up for damaging behaviour.

Some think the structure of business can have ethics built in. John Mackey, founder of Whole Foods Market (the US-based eco-friendly grocery chain with a few shops in London) co-authored a book called Conscious Capitalism: Liberating Heroic Spirit of Business. In this interview he outlines the four pillars of conscious capitalism: higher purpose, stakeholder integration, conscious leadership, and conscious culture and management. They’re supposed to be interconnected, and all four tenets being followed at once is the ‘ideal’ form of doing business.

It’s admirable for such a large business with a complex supply chain to have such altruistic goals. (Although since the interview, Whole Foods was acquired by Amazon, which lends an interesting twist to its ability to have an ethical logistics system.) The most notable part of this creed is that it’s not supposed to be a surface-level veneer, but something deeper:

“...conscious capitalism is not to be confused with corporate social responsibility (CSR). Conscious capitalism puts higher purpose and creating value for the community stakeholder at the core of every business decision rather than being added on later as a program to thwart criticism or help manage a business’ reputation."

Talking is one thing, doing is another.

B-corps can be the difference

A B-corp is a company that’s structured to serve its stakeholders as well as its shareholders. That means serving everyone in its sphere of influence through three strands: financial, environmental, and social.

Certified by the B Lab organisation, each member has to meet social and environmental sustainability standards, plus have open accounting and transparent reporting.  Also known as ’triple bottom line’ economics, it’s all about serving People, Planet and Profit.

While it is of course voluntary, the benefits of taking part are numerous: pursuing a more ethical mission, attracting like-minded talent, and joining a wider community, to start with. Cynics might say it’s just a marketing ploy, but why not: if a business can make a impact in the world and get some positive publicity at the same time, surely that’s worth doing.

How to run an ethical company

Good business starts at the top.

We like how Julian Richer runs Richer Sounds, having recently handed over 60% of his company to the staff that make his success possible. That’s a guarantee that they’ll stay loyal and work hard to keep their job, and when the story appeared in the national news, it was a hugely positive bit of publicity for the company - everyone wins.

Not everyone’s in a position to implement such radical restructuring, but there are a few ways to upgrade your company’s moral compass that’ll benefit owners, employees, and the wider world:

  • Write a mission statement and follow it - make it visible to your customers and staff, and plan how it translates into realistic, measurable action.
  • Get your policies in place -  Talking is great but having documented policies to deal with things like absence, mental health, sustainability, flexible work and parental leave is key to getting everyone on the same page.
  • Cultivate Culture - one that's ready to change based on what works fairly for everyone.
  • Treat staff right - adequate time off, non-judgemental support for health and other personal issues, equal opportunities for progression, and sensible benefits like pensions.

So it’s not impossible to make money and benefit others. Ethical business is something you can go incredibly deep in - some people spend their whole lives studying it - and it’s good that people are demanding more of companies they buy from. Thankfully, more companies are starting to design their organisations ethically from the ground up:

"A leader designing an ethical culture should try to create contexts that keep ethical principles top of mind, reward ethics through formal and informal incentives and opportunities, and weave ethics into day-to-day behaviour."

At Timetastic our mission is to help and encourage people to take time off, get the rest they deserve, and spend more time with their families. We’re a business and have our financial goals, and so do our customers. But we’ve always got time to make things better.

Photo by Sarah Dorweiler on Unsplash