A Guide to being Ethical in Business

This article, a Guide to being ethical in business has been contributed by Maya Vertigans from Planner Bee VA Services. Maya’s Virtual Assistant Service specialises in working with sustainable businesses and ethical entrepreneurs. Having also run her own eco-friendly gifting business, Maya is passionate about protecting the planet and has put together this guide to help you start operating as ethically as possible in your business.

The Importance of Adopting Ethical Practices within your Business

Unless we act now, scientists predict that damage from climate change could be irreversible by 2030. Not only do we have a moral responsibility to do our bit within our small businesses, but our customers are becoming increasingly conscious. More than 2/3 of consumers want businesses to take action to help the environment. With concern about climate change growing, people expect businesses to be doing their bit to protect the planet and we must start by influencing where people shop and the businesses they support. If you haven’t already, now is the time to start (or continue) taking steps to become as ethical as possible within your small business.

Ethical Practices you can adopt within your Small Business

  • Educating yourself, your staff and customers
  • Supporting sustainable initiatives
  • Sourcing ethical products and packaging
  • Investing business profits ethically

Educating Yourself about being Ethical in Business

You would never get in your car – or with sustainability in mind, on a train – without knowing where you were going. Similarly, in order to adopt ethical practices within your business, you need to understand the problem and where you are trying to go. If you are reading this article then you are already educating yourself about the climate crisis and how your business can be more ethical in response to this. But this article is just the start of your educational journey, with research into climate change and scientific discoveries happening daily, everyday really is a school day.

Researching being Ethical in Business

To start, BBC News have a climate section of their website where you can keep up with all of the latest developments and science relating to climate change and protecting the planet. Depending on the industry your business operates within, there may be additional support to help you with your journey to become more sustainable. For example, the wedding industry is known for its negative impact on the environment due to the excessive waste that is produced. The Sustainable Wedding Alliance supports businesses in the wedding sector to adopt more sustainable and ethical strategies and practices. Once you have educated yourself about being ethical in business, you can start to spread the word and communicate your business ethics with staff, customers and suppliers.

Being Ethical in Business and Supporting Sustainable Initiatives

If you are interested in adopting more ethical practices within your small business, supporting sustainable initiatives is a great place to start. Tree planting schemes are an example of one such initiative. Trees For Life plants trees in the Highlands of Scotland for businesses who partake in their corporate partnership. Sustainable initiatives are not just for huge corporations, businesses of all sizes can take part in schemes like Trees for Life.

Whilst sustainable initiatives are a positive step in the right direction, your business should not just rely on tree planting to be seen as sustainable. Alongside supporting sustainable initiatives, your business should also try to reduce emissions by adopting ethical practices within your business. Liz Clarkson Interiors provide an example of a business succeeding at this. As well as reusing vintage furniture, Liz also uses environmentally friendly products in her process and packaging. To supplement these ethical practices, Liz also plants 5 trees for every order taken. Instead of being the sole focus of their sustainability policy, tree planting is an additional initiative supported by the business, alongside adopting sustainable business practices to reduce emissions within the business.

Being Ethical in Business and Sourcing Ethical Products and Packaging

For product businesses such as Liz Clarkson Interiors, sourcing ethical products and packaging can go a long way to helping the business become more sustainable. Between October 2019 and October 2020, the number of Fairtrade purchases increased by 19% which indicates that consumers are becoming increasingly conscious about whether the products they buy are being produced ethically.

Ethically Made Products and Packaging

The first step to sourcing ethical products is to review where your products come from:

  • How are the products made and what processes does this involve?
  • What materials are used to make the products?
  • Where are the products made and what are the working conditions?
  • Who is making the products?
  • Where are the raw materials produced and the products made and how far are they being transported?

Once you know the answers to these questions, you can start to establish whether the products are ethically made and the social and environmental cost of the products. Now that you understand the supply chain of your products, the next step towards being more ethical is to be honest about what you are selling and clearly label your products and where they came from. If you aren’t comfortable telling your customers where your products come from and how they are made, perhaps this is an indication that the products are not ethically produced?

Adopting ethical practices within your product business isn’t just about the product, after all there is nothing worse than choosing a product because of its sustainability credentials and it arrives packaged in single use plastic! Minimise the packaging you use as much as possible and ensure that any packaging you do use is as ethical and sustainable as possible. For example, choosing packaging options that are reusable, compostable, biodegradable or recyclable.

Investing Business Profits Ethically

Educating yourself, supporting sustainable initiatives and sourcing ethical products are all important steps towards being ethical in business. To have an even greater impact, we need to consider where we are investing our business profits and the causes that our money is supporting. If you do not consider the ethics behind your investment, how can you know that your investments are not causing harm to people or our planet?

With ethical investments, you can (hopefully) earn a profit on your investment, whilst also being sure that your investment is environmentally friendly or socially beneficial – or both! By investing ethically, you can ensure that your money is being invested inline with your ethical principles. Over the last 10 years the number of people investing ethically has greatly increased and this has been mirrored by an increase in ethical businesses and equity funds that you can invest in. Being ethical can have a different meaning for everyone, so it is worth researching your investment before diving in. For more information on ethical investing, Evolution Financial Planning has put together a free ethical investment guide to help you understand how ethical investing could work for you.

Being Ethical in your Small Business – The Ultimate Guide

With the climate crisis becoming an increasingly pressing issue and gaining more and more media coverage which is influencing consumers, adopting ethical practices within your business has never been more important.  When it comes to the ethical practices that you choose to adopt within your small business, there is no one size fits all and the approach you take will depend on the type of business. The best advice I can give you is to identify one area of your business that could be more ethical and just start. Do not allow yourself to become overwhelmed trying to transform all of your business systems and processes to make them more ethical all at once because you will be setting yourself up to fail. Even small changes you implement to make your business more ethical will have an impact and as your confidence grows, you can begin to tackle bigger systems and processes within your business.

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