A Promise to Be Ethical in an Era of Immorality

Posted by Trish Riley, June 1, 2009

Whenever I have the chance to talk about Green Business, I lament the Harvard business model that has become the national standard: profit above all. In a presentation at Green Cities last week, Gil Friend pointed out that more than half of U.S. states have laws that say corporations primary goal is to make more money. Friend questions that wisdom, pointing out that making money for shareholders should be a cost, not a goal, for a company. We both agree that putting profit above health and safety is a dead-end for business rather than a responsible goal. It looks like Harvard, and other business schools, are catching on. The next generation of leaders is taking business in a better direction than our forefathers established.

When a new crop of future business leaders graduates from the Harvard Business School next week, many of them will be taking a new oath that says, in effect, greed is not good.

What happened to making money?

That, of course, is still at the heart of the Harvard curriculum. But at Harvard and other top business schools, there has been an explosion of interest in ethics courses and in student activities — clubs, lectures, conferences — about personal and corporate responsibility and on how to view business as more than a money-making enterprise, but part of a large social community.

“We want to stand up and recite something out loud with our class,” said Teal Carlock, who is graduating from Harvard and has accepted a job at Genentech. “Fingers are now pointed at M.B.A.’s and we, as a class, have a real opportunity to come together and set a standard as business leaders.”

At Columbia Business School, all students must pledge to an honor code: “As a lifelong member of the Columbia Business School community, I adhere to the principles of truth, integrity, and respect. I will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.”

Read more: A Promise to Be Ethical in an Era of Immorality – NYTimes.com.

This relates to a recent item we ran regarding skepticism that businesses will fully join the sustainability revolution by replacing some portion of profits with more altruistic objectives:

Is sustainability a realistic goal?

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