Ethics and values are at the heart of a sustainable culture

02 April 2019

Tags: Ethical Values, Treatment of Employees

David Grayson: 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.

Back in 2011, as part of its 25th anniversary, the IBE asked me to contribute my thoughts on what the next 25 years would have in store for business, and business ethics.

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. 


Professor David Grayson CBE
Professor David Grayson CBE


David is Emeritus Professor of Corporate Responsibility at Cranfield School of Management. From 2007-2017, he was director of the Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility and Professor of Corporate Responsibility.

David became Chair of the Trustees Board on 01 April 2019.

He joined Cranfield in April 2007, after a thirty year career as a social entrepreneur and campaigner for responsible business, diversity, and small business development. This included founding Project North East which has now worked in nearly 60 countries around the world; being the founding CEO of the Prince's Youth Business Trust and serving as a managing-director of Business in the Community.

David has an Honorary Doctorate of Law from London South Bank University and was a visiting Senior Fellow at the CSR Initiative of the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard (2005-10).

He has served on various charity and public sector boards over the past 30 years. These have included the boards of the National Co-operative Development Agency, The Prince of Wales' Innovation Trust and the Strategic Rail Authority. He chaired the National Disability Council and the Business Link Accreditation Board; in each case appointed by the Major Government and re-appointed by the Blair administration.

He is currently chairman of the national charity Carers UK championing the role of 6.5million Britons caring for a loved one. He is a former chairman of one of the UK's larger social enterprises and largest eldercare providers, Housing & Care 21 during which the organisation made corporate history by becoming the first-ever not-for-profit successfully to acquire a publicly quoted group of companies. David received an OBE for services to industry in 1994 and a CBE for services to disability in 1999.

David has written a number of books on responsible business and corporate sustainability including most recently: ‘All in - The Future of Business Leadership’ with Chris Coulter and Mark Lee. He is part of the faculty of the Forward Institute and of the Circle of Advisers for Business Fights Poverty

The Guardian has named David as one of ten top global tweeters on sustainable leadership alongside Al Gore, Tim Cook - CEO of Apple, and Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg

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