Organization Ethics and Social Responsibility

Organizational Ethics and Social Responsibility

Evaluate the level of ethical behavior and corporate social responsibility of the organization you work for or are otherwise involved with. Research and document the organization’s internal and external communication, such as mission statements, credos, et cetera, in regard to their values and ethics. If possible, interview a human resources representative from your chosen organization to further expand your research. Use this information and the Triple Bottom Line questions on page 456, “People, Planet, and Profit: Sustainability and the Triple Bottom Line,” of your text, to help evaluate and report on the organization’s performance in regard to:

  • High ethical standards.
  • Dedication to community service.
  • Embracing diversity.
  • Being an employer of choice.
  • Having compassion for the disadvantaged.
  • Commitment to charitable giving and concern for the environment.

How do you rate your organization overall in terms of ethical behavior and social responsibility? What improvements do you recommend and why?


People, Planet, and Profit: Sustainability and the Triple Bottom Line

Laura Quinn, Ph.D. 1

Imagine a world in which organizations participate in the global economy in ways that enhance the safety and well-being of all individuals and protect our natural habitats while creating a fair and equitable state of wealth for everyone. Wouldn’t this be wonderful? Is it possible? With innovation, creativity, and a commitment to expanded values, there is a new framework, called sustainability, helping businesses make this dream a reality.

We all know our current state of global affairs isn’t in the best condition. In fact, issues of global warming, ozone depletion, pollution, unemployment, and unfair labor practices, to name just a few, are daily elements of our local, national, and international news. Indeed, the future of our planet and its inhabitants (us!) is in question; some would say it is in a state of jeopardy. However, dwelling on our current state of “doom and gloom” will not help the situation. What will help is identifying a way of working and living that is financially feasible, fair and equitable to all, and, at the same time, protects our planet—this is what sustainability is all about.

All types of organizations from countries around the world are taking on what some would call a revolutionary approach to running their day-to-day operations. This new approach, referred to as sustainability, asks organizations to go beyond the traditional evaluation of success, profitability, and the bottom line to expand these measures to include the triple bottom line (TBL). The TBL Perspective asks businesses to look beyond profits as the main measure of success and also to include the impact their operations have on people and the planet. While still focusing on the economic value an organization produces, the TBL expands to measure the social and environmental value the organization creates or, unfortunately, destroys. Organizations adopting a triple-bottom-line stance consider the impact of their operations, strategies, and decisions on their employees, their industry, their community, their environment—the “whole system” of the organization.

Certainly, this expanded viewpoint requires organizations to pay attention to a complex, integrated network of factors. When using the TBL, it is not enough to ask, “How much does it cost?” or “What will our profit be?” Organizations implementing the TBL will employ a broader scope of questioning to include (but not limited to) the following:

To Address People

  • Do we treat our employees with respect?
  • Do our employees earn “livable” wages and have good working conditions?1 Laura Quinn, Ph.D., is an associate at the Center for Creative Leadership. She has responsibility for leadership development programs and sustainability research.
  • Are we a diverse organization, treating people of all types in a fair manner?
  • Do we ensure the health and safety of our people? Our communities?
  • Do our stakeholders trust us?
  • Does our organization uphold ethical values and practices?

To Address Planet

  • What is the impact of our product or services on the environment?
  • Do our operations create pollution and harmful waste?
  • Are we efficient and effective in our consumption of energy and resources?
  • Do we recycle?

To Address Profit

  • Can we make and sell our products or services for a profit?
  • What do we need to do to maintain our profitability?
  • Are we competitive in the marketplace?
  • How can we ensure continued innovation and competitive advantage?

Of course, paying attention to the triple bottom line is not necessarily easy; the TBL requires integration, openness, and thoroughness within an organization’s communication systems. The TBL requires strong leadership, a commitment to ethics and values, and patience. It is important to recognize that as organizations pursue the TBL, the emphasis on each factor is not always the same or equal. The TBL factors are linked and require different levels of consideration at different times and in different situations. For example, a decision on employee policies may come up that doesn’t have a strong environmental impact but does have a definite impact on employees, wages, and jobs (people and profit). This decision would not have an equal emphasis on the environmental factor. Yet another decision may be needed on the new types of chemicals used in the manufacturing process of an organization; this decision would clearly involve all three factors. In this case, the organization would want to know: How much does the new chemical cost? Is it toxic? If so, what can be done with the waste? What impact does this waste have on the environment? Where will this waste be dumped? Who will this affect? Most important, do we have an alternative that isn’t toxic, or is there another process that doesn’t require a toxic chemical? The complexity added by the TBL factors requires organizations to rethink and reconfigure their organizational communication processes in ways that address triple-bottom-line effects. Specifically, consideration must be given to the following:

  • Leadership—Leaders must create a new vision for the organization that expands beyond traditional values and approaches. Instead of focusing on short-term strategies, leaders must think of the legacy of their organization’s impact on the world. Goals and objectives must incorporate a whole-systems perspective, with a focus on innovation, interconnections, and long-term impact.
  • Values/Ethics—The TBL Perspective requires the adoption of a broader, more encompassing set of organizational values and ethics. Instead of being driven by the single value of creating shareholder wealth, organizations must also place value on factors such as social justice, environmental quality, fair employment and trade practices, and community involvement.
  • Decision Making/Problem Solving—As the three factors of the TBL are incorporated, they necessitate that new criteria be developed for evaluating effective decisions and solutions to problems. Decision criteria must expand, beyond considering costs, to consider the impact of decisions on people, including vendors, employees, and community members, and on the environment, including the efficient use of natural resources, the creation of waste and pollution, and the effect on the supply chain.
  • Employee Involvement/Employment Practices—In order to implement the TBL, it is imperative that employees at all levels of the organization be involved. Addressing the factors of the TBL is a complex process, and ensuring the participation of all employees will help provide a whole-systems perspective for decisions, processes, and strategies. Also inherent in the triple-bottom-line perspective is the fair and inclusive treatment of employees. Employment practices must contribute to the employee’s
  • Education/Training—Certainly, the TBL requires a new way of thinking and behaving. To ensure that everyone has a shared understanding of the principles and perspectives of the TBL, some form of continuous training and education will be needed to teach everyone about the different factors, as well as the skills needed to deal with a new and greater level of complexity.
  • Communication Networks/Stakeholder Engagement—As the TBL addresses complex issues within and beyond the organization’s boundaries, organizations must ensure that communication networks are broad and diverse and include the entire system of the organization. Creating frequent forums for dialogue with stakeholders such as employees, vendors, customers, community members, environmental groups, nonprofit groups, and government officials is an essential part of understanding and managing the TBL.

So what do organizations get when they adopt a TBL stance? Of course, the main benefit of adopting the TBL is that of becoming a responsible global citizen. In addition, there are strategic advantages, cost savings, and the building of goodwill that develop around an organization’s efforts with the TBL. Anytime an organization is more comprehensive and forward thinking in its strategies and operations, it can compete more effectively in its own market, whether it is a manufacturing organization or a community nonprofit organization. TBL organizations have been shown to experience the following advantages as a result of their efforts toward sustainability:

  • Increased stakeholder satisfaction and loyalty
  • Ease in hiring and maintaining talented employees
  • Increased productivity
  • Increased employee morale
  • Reduced expenses and waste
  • Increased revenue and market share
  • Better risk management
  • Increased capability for adapting to market/industry/customer changes
  • Improved innovation
  • Positive community relations

Although much technological and scientific knowledge helps organizations transition to this new way of conducting business, the organizational communication challenges of the TBL are just beginning to be addressed. The field of organizational communication can and must play a significant role in helping these organizations move forward to sustainability with the triple bottom line. The TBL organization’s ultimate goal is to participate in commerce as a first-class global citizen, helping to make the world a better place for current and future generations. The field of organizational communication can play a significant role in helping organizations along on this worthwhile and necessary journey.

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