What is good business? What is an ethical company?
Some people struggle to answer this question. Others have well defined views and examples of what good business looks like. They can also describe bad businesses they think exploit human weakness or damage the environment.
The School of Life, founded by Zurich-born Alain de Botton, a UK-based philosopher and author, presents its definition of good business in the video below. At its heart is a notion that some products exploit damaging human desires, while others fulfill important and worthwhile human needs. Only businesses focused on important needs are good. How a product is produced is also critical. If production exploits people or damages the environment along the way then it’s bad.
Another definition of good business has been formulated by The Ethical Investment Research Service (EIRS) that rates companies on ethics to help the managers of ethical funds decide where to put their money. Broadly, the EIRS defines a good business as one that does not damage the environment, produce harmful products or exploit people.
Geneva-based Horyou.com is also helping to define good business. It has created an online social network for social entrepreneurs and visionaries focused on good business and socially positive actions. By connecting like-minded people with a higher purpose that extends beyond profits, they hope to solve some of the world’s greatest and most pressing problems.
In addition, from 23 to 25 October 2015, under the banner of The Social Innovation and Global Ethics Forum 2015 (SIGEF), Horyou will bring together around 50 energetic socially minded movers and shakers to present their world-changing ventures. The event takes place in the striking Batiment des Forces Motrices in Geneva and welcomes everyone with an interest in social innovation and good business.
Here are three of the visionaries who will be there. The videos give you their stories and explain why they are so excited by what they do.
From the greenhouse to the Whitehouse
Stephen Ritz, who founded the Green Bronx Machine, is affectionately known as “America’s Favorite Teacher”. He has a mission to get Bronx kids off a damaging diet of fast food and works with schools to plant vegetables all over the Bronx in New York City. His mission has taken him all the way to the Whitehouse kitchen.
“The feel of the beat should be soothing”
Chad Harper, Founder and CEO of Hip Hop Saves Lives, teaches humanity through hip-hop at some of the most dangerous schools in NYC. And it works. For him it’s all about finding the right beat.
What happens when you leave 45 pianos unattended on the streets of Geneva?
Dan Acher, Founder & director of Happy City Lab from Geneva knows because he has done it. In modern cities, despite being surrounded by people, we often feel isolated and alone. Dan shows how easily we can change this.
The SIGEF event will cover topics such as putting climate above personal, corporate and national interests, spreading the idea of seeking social return on investment, not just profit, and using the emerging sense of global citizenship brought about by technology to drive positive change.
Back to business
It is sometimes easy to conclude that it is too hard to define good and bad business. The renewed debate around diesel engines provides an example. After some diesel-powered Volkswagen cars were found to be pumping out nitrous oxide at 40 times the allowed rate, some have started rallying for the demise of diesel cars. The diesel motor however, is a double-edged sword. Compared to its petrol brother, it is better for the environment – it produces less greenhouse gas – but worse for humans because of the higher levels of toxic emissions such as nitrous oxide and particulate matter it emits. So is making diesel engines a good business? It depends.
In a letter to The Economist, Glenn Kennedy suggests using a variant of Volkswagen’s “defeat device” to switch cars to low nitrous oxide emissions (but high greenhouse emissions) when driving in the city, then switch to the opposite when travelling on say a deserted interstate in Montana. A better business could have used Volkswagen’s engineering talent to do something like this.
Good businesses are faced with a dual challenge. Making money and doing good. This is a bigger challenge than just making money. Getting kids to eat fresh vegetable is much harder than getting them to eat fast food. And less profitable. It is more rewarding though. If you’re not convinced, why not head along to the SIGEF event and ask Stephen Ritz?