Blog: Ethics and values are at the heart of a sustainable culture

Professor David Grayson CBE

I am delighted to take on the chairmanship of IBE. Ethics and values are at the heart of creating a sustainable culture.

I have been involved in debates about, and the practice of, business and society, and the responsibilities of business, for almost all my adult life. I have never seen this as just about mitigating risks by minimising negative Social, Environmental and Economic (SEE) impacts; but also about creating opportunities through optimising positive SEE impacts. 

This is both doing the right thing, and also about creating the best possibilities for continuing into the indefinite future: true Corporate Sustainability.

As chair of IBE, I am going to be passionate about helping IBE to explain, as powerfully as we can, how ethics and values help a business to live its Purpose, take responsibility for its impacts, and become sustainable.

My prediction was that we would see further rapid advances in information and communications technologies, and in social media which, combined would make transparency an inevitability and not a management choice. Now, in 2019, enforced transparency is already pervasive.

Practically, this means consumers, employees, investors, NGOs, are be able to learn so much more - in real-time - about companies and the way they behave. One writer memorably called the consequence of this the "Naked corporation”. 

Any company, for example, making cavalier claims about conditions in its supply chain, will find stakeholders talking directly to workers on a supplier’s factory floor, maybe across the world and exposing the reality real-time with photos sent from the factory worker’s mobile phone. 

I foresaw the potential impact on management behaviour as a form of paralysis, as managers would construct audit trails in case they have to subsequently justify their behaviour.  Wise companies seek to avoid this with robust values, recruiting and appraising against those values, and effective education and training - at all levels of the organisation - in ethical decision-making. 

This makes the work of the IBE all the more crucial. To meet the scale of future demand, that will require IBE being able to work with other providers such as business schools and management trainers.

I want us to be able to show that ethical values are timely and timeless, whatever the size or age or industry sector of a business; and indeed, read across to the public and Voluntary & Community sectors too.

It is important that we are accessible: not just to specialist Ethics and Compliance Officers, but to managers and employees generally. Any employee – whatever their role or pay-grade – should feel confident and able to speak out and speak up, if they are concerned about unethical behaviour. This is why I am particularly excited about one of the latest IBE initiatives: a new mobile App to help employees to speak up.

I am very much looking forward to meeting current and potential supporters, partners and associates; and to working with you to help make ethics and values central to successful and sustainable businesses in the 2020s and beyond. 

Above all, I am going to be working to ensure that IBE is around and central to debates in 2036 – the 50th anniversary of IBE. 

Posted: 02/04/2019

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Professor David Grayson, IBE's new chair, shares his thoughts on ethics and sustainability

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