Can You Run a Successful Business and Still Have Ethics?

Your immediate reaction to the above question was probably yes, of course – unless you have no morals in the first place, in which case you wouldn’t care anyway! Assuming you aren’t operating some kind of illegal enterprise, business ethics will be a vital part of your business. Without them, you risk getting a bad reputation and falling foul of the law, so being ethical in business is an important aspect of legitimate success. Beyond business ethics, there are other ethical considerations which cover, for example, your investments, purchases and financial dealings.

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What kind of ethics?

In a broad context, it would be purchasing Fair Trade or similarly approved products, using recycled paper, ensuring your investments were made with ethical companies and favoring deals with suppliers or institutions that support ethical activities. There is an argument that none of these labels guarantee that Third World farmers are any better off, or that pollution and waste are being reduced. It is true that the whole life cycle of a product needs to be dissected to ensure its ethical or ecological credentials. For example, if you use recycled paper products, does the reclaim process emit more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than using virgin wood pulp from forests grown for this purpose? The complexity of knowing whether you are truly making a difference or not can be off-putting for busy business owners, who have more than enough to worry about as it is.


One of the barriers to acting with ethical considerations in your workplace is the scarcity of ethical options. The choice of investment portfolios that only include ethically sound organizations is growing but still makes up a tiny percentage of available options. Fairtrade products are becoming more readily available, and there are similar schemes all claiming to ensure a better deal for poorer farmers, but again they only form a very small percentage of the market. In addition to this, prices are inevitably higher than for regular products, which means a more significant investment for your business.

Making it work

To make this work for your business, you need to decide how you are going to embrace the ethical philosophy. You could start by simply ensuring all the consumables in your office are ethically sourced. You could then calculate how much extra this kind of action costs and see if it’s worthwhile for you. You could make a move to source as many of your products as is feasible from ethical suppliers, and capitalize on this move by making it a key element of your marketing strategy. Promoting your ethical credentials in your communications and advertising is a great way to catch people’s attention. You could also make use of financial services that are operating new, more philanthropic models such as Lemonade Insurance, who make donations to good causes of your choice out of unclaimed premiums.

Doing your bit for the world is often held up as an aspiration we should all be working towards, but sometimes it isn’t easy to get to grips with how to be a truly ethical business. Even if you feel like there’s little you could do, every action you take achieves two things: it helps with improving the lives of other people, and it shows the policymakers that these issues are important to people.