Business' Environmental Responsibilities and Stewardship: Research Paper
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In addition, we might ask ourselves if the richer nations have or not a greater responsibility as far as the research and development in the area of sustainable energy are concerned. (Reid, environmentalleader.com)
Believing that there are such energy sources or consumption policies which would allow the planet's resources to be maintained for a longer period, while making sure that all the nations are provided with a comfortable living is rather naive. Under these circumstances, it has been argued that doing the moral thing means choosing the least terrible solution. The problem is that this implies a relativistic evaluation of the matter which impacts the manner in which the moral principles are conceived.
Before stepping into a debate regarding the character of the moral principles, we may state that we agree with the opinions which state that there is no such thing as objective moral principles."Ethics can be seen as a system of principles or judgements which state whether something is good or bad, right or wrong" (Amberla, T, Wang, L., Juslin, H., Panwar, R, Hansen, E., Anderson, R., 45).
In other words, there are no universally valid moral principles existing somewhere and waiting to be discovered and applied by man. On the contrary, it is man who judges the reality in which he lives in order to understand what is moral and what is not. Reading between the lines we understand that an objective evaluation of the sustainability issue is required, evaluation which is likely to lead to some relevant conclusions regarding the ethical "things to be done": "At the macro level, the definition of business ethics particularly encompasses the moral evaluation of the economic system of free enterprise, as well as possible alternatives to and modifications of it"( De George in Amberla, T, Wang, L., Juslin, H., Panwar, R, Hansen, E., Anderson, R., 46)
There is no action that man can perform which can bring advantages exclusively. All the choices imply renouncing to something. It is the same with the smart use of the environmental resources. Therefore, what companies fond of the sustainable approach need to do is make a smart choice- from which a maximum of parties can benefit. But, if there are no universal laws which can guide this decision process, then the subjective side of the matter might become dominant. Since the matter is represented by ethical issues, it is easy to understand the complexity and the importance of the discussion.
All actions and decisions are based upon values and interests. Ultimately it is safe to say that even interests are guided by values. In the attempt to understand what values are, we could define them as "concepts of beliefs about desirable end states or behaviors which transcend specific situations, guide selection or evaluation of behavior and events and are ordered by relative importance." "Schwartz introduced four universal value categories present in all cultures: 1) self-transcendence, 2) self-enhancement, 3) openness and 4) conservation" (Amberla, T, Wang, L., Juslin, H., Panwar, R, Hansen, E., Anderson, R., 45). Ethics, including business ethics ought to reflect the considerations mentioned above.
However, the purpose of businesses is that of making profit. It is likely for a contradiction to occur between the declared purpose and the ethical values. What are companies then supposed to do? Since companies are not machines, but are managed by people, it has been argued that the decision process will be influenced by the personal values of the managers (some cultures being oriented towards individualistic values, other being focused upon community values). (Hans, 25)
It has also been suggested that the societies which are dominated by collectivistic values are more likely to be green-oriented, just like individuals with collectivistic values are more concerned with having their businesses respect the social norm instead of achieving certain economic performances. Since ethics tells what is good and what is wrong, providing us with the rules that we need to follow in order to have a god behavior and lead a life with a strong moral character, we can consider ethics to be normative (it imposes norms of behavior) (Hartman Laura P. & Joe DesJardins,13)
However, taking into account the fact that sometimes the best solutions are taken depending on the circumstances, we can ask ourselves whether there is a difference between ethics in general and business ethics in particular. Since the moral values are the same for everybody, the answer should be "no." The
value of the individual derives from his actions and not from his declared values. Nevertheless this does not imply that people will always act according to their values. The social circumstances and the pressures coming from the social environment may sometimes have people do the contrary of what they want to do. Under these circumstances, the role of the business leader becomes fundamental. If the problem is connected to circumstances, then the business genius lies in creating those circumstances in which good people can perform good acts and bad people are prevented from doing evil acts. (Hartman Laura P. & Joe DesJardins, p13)
Social ethics refers to the manner in which the social communities are supposed to live. The main role here is played by the institutions and the main questions to be addressed include "justice, public policy, law, civic virtues, organizational structure and political philosophy." In this sense business ethics is concerned with how business institutions ought to be structured, about whether they have a responsibility to the greater society (corporate social responsibility or CSR) and about making decisions that will impact many people other than the individual decision maker."(Hartman Laura P. & Joe DesJardins, p15) Here we understand that the impact of an individual decision is greater than one might imagine. We could ask ourselves if it is fair that such decisions are to be taken based upon personal values. Business leaders however realize the impact of their choices and those who are green oriented are more likely to follow ethical principles such as the respect for the others and the environment. Nevertheless, the profits issue is also to be carefully managed (the challenges of the sustainable approach have been mentioned earlier in the paper) and it is safe to say that business leaders must have a deep understanding of society and a strong long-term vision.
An interesting aspect which needs to be mentioned is represented by the nature of the decisions. What looks like an ethical thing to someone might be very well considered a simple financial decision to someone else. The truth is that the ethical and the business decisions do not exclude each other and the economical mechanisms may very well involve ethical considerations. While both the economic and the ethical decisions are concerned with the impact of their consequences upon the decision maker and others, business is oriented towards very specific goals while ethics is a supporter of impartiality. It is easy to see why conflicts might occur between the two. (Watkins, 42)
Sometimes, depending on the circumstances, it is difficult to recognize the ethical dimension of an issue. "Some writers have called this inability to recognize ethical issues normative myopia or shortsightedness about values" (Hartman Laura P. & Joe DesJardins, 49) . This would explain why certain decisions which seem right in a certain moment prove to be unethical later when the circumstances change. However, when it comes to the sustainable approach, it is very clear that an unbalanced consumption and destruction of the earth's resources will have devastating effects for everyone on a long-term (even if the poor nations will be the first to suffer).
Taking a look at the business environment and seeing the large number of stakeholders which are involved, it is easy to see why the decision process is so challenging. When many perspectives are involved, the chances for ethical dilemmas to occur increase. The most difficult thing to do is make sure that everybody can benefit from a decision (usually when the rights of a group are supported by a an action, those of another group are denied). A concept which must be taken into consideration at this point is represented by the one of "moral imagination." It refers to the capacity of coming up with multiple solutions -- making sure that the rightful option can be found. In other words, people with a moral imagination are more likely to take business decisions which are ethically valid than good people who are not endowed with it. (Hartman Laura P. & Joe DesJardins, p 54)
It is true that business decisions are often taken based on circumstances and subjective values. However, if one wishes to perform a task which also has an ethical dimension, then there ought to be a set of rules to which he could relate. Such a set is to be found in the Caux Principles for Responsible Business, which has "set forth ethical norms for acceptable businesses behavior" (Hartman Laura P. & Joe DesJardins, p 30-31). The first principle is to respect stakeholders beyond shareholders. The shareholders…
Sources Used in Documents:
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (Ross, W.D. Translator). Retrieved fromhttp://socserv.mcmaster.ca/econ/ugcm/3ll3/aristotle/Ethics.pdf September 30, 2010
Hartman Laura P. & Joe DesJardins. Business Ethics Decision Making for Personal integrity & Social Responsibility, Second Edition
Jonas, Hans. The imperative of responsibility. Chicago: University of Chicago Press,1984
Kant, I. Fundamental principles of the metaphysics of morals. NuVision Publications, 2007
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