Speaking of sustainability

Is the Amazon disruptor paradigm sustainable? Is buying on-line and shipping packages home a model for sustainability?

What is the footprint created by deliveries vs the footprint of a shopper bringing home his/her goods?

© Tamara Beck

Is what Amazon does in the marketplace, causing the closing of small stores, and replacing retail business with one huge on-line “store” ethical?


A force for good

Benchmarking ethical behavior in business is not just a matter of academic concern. It is also a practical one.

© Tamara Beck

Maria Emilia Correa, co-founder of SistemaB and the speaker at the Baruch’s Zicklin Center on April 15th, is looking to align the interests of businesses with the interests of society.

Her premise is that businesses, and we, their customers, have the power to fix degraded ecosystems, improve issues of income inequality, correct gender issues, and generally fix things that have been damaged.

In short, business has an untapped potential to do good in society. Since business can be a force for good, they can focus on not just profitability but also on righting some wrongs. The BCorp emerges, where the :B is for benefit.

BCorps have a hundred standards to which to aspire, and 80 that they are required to meet in order to be certified. There are some 2800 in 69 countries who have met qualified. You know many of them, and perhaps, like our household, routinely buy their products.

Maria Emilia Correa’s answer to the question posed by her presentation–Can the market fix the market? — ia a resounding yes. BCorps and purpose-driven entrepreneurs are the solution she suggests.

Doing right

© Tamara Beck

Ethics is some thing that is too often graded on a curve. Convenience and expediency, which should not change the essential dynamic of ethical behavior, become part of the picture.

Our best instincts and good intentions are derailed by goals and aspirations that paint ethics a shade of gray.

Sometimes our best intentions are derailed by goals and aspirations that paint ethics a shade of gray.
(c) Tamara Beck

Finding a metric to measure ethics is a challenge, but, as you know, there are always academics looking to defy the odds. Ethics is an unavoidable but not a primary concern for many businesses; it is too often a somewhat boring after-thought.

Two faculty professors at the Gordon Institute for Business (GIBS) in Pretoria, South Africa, Rabbi Gideon Pogrund and Marius Oosthuizen established the Ethics and Governance Think Tank with the goal of putting ethics in a central position and a more attractive light.

Their mission was to determine if ethics could be measured in the same way that other business outcomes, such as sales, are determined. They also modified “Up to Code..,” from the Harvard B’School to create a barometer that would benchmark ethical choices and put them at the forefront of corporate decision making. Their conclusion was to set 62 standards for how businesses act in the world.

This model calls for a speak-up culture as an antidote to polarization, and a way for companies to engage radically with stakeholders. In establishing measurement for ethical behaviors, their goal is to rebrand ethics as innovative, sustainable and exciting.

Program details: Creating a Practical Dynamic and Innovation Approach to Business Ethics, took place at Baruch’s Newman Conference Center on April 4th at 12noon.

How it all began…

There are a number of new businesses out there whose origin story seems to be that a couple of fellas got together to make us a less expensive but still quality product.

The guys from Hubble make the claim that they started their company because contaact lenses were too expensive. Warby Parker attests to a similar motive for their eyeglass venture. Mvmt.com says that the founders thought high prices for a nice watch were ridiculous so they started a business that would give us a good looking wristwatch at a good price.

Does this add up? How did they, any of them, know that they could offer the same caliber products at a better price? Could this price point motivation have been the raison d’etre for a start-up? It does make an excellent marketer’s presentation.

None of them are suggesting that the goods they manufacture are low-end, like the furniture from Bob’s, for instance. So high-quality, great customer service, and affordability become the standard for their undertakings. I can personally vouch for high expectations met at Warby Parker where service is top-notch as is the eyewear, and the prices are fair.

The question is not the excellent outcomes these firms have reached, but rather whether thinking a product should be sold at a better price is enough to fuel their existence. Is that automatically a vision for a new business?

The future is

This is a multiple choice blog:

  • scary,
  • around the corner,
  • now,
  • are we there yet?
Jusejuju [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D Waymo driverless car in San Francisco

The information super highway is as wide as the world wide web can make it.

A trip on this highway can cost you a good deal of who you are and what you want. Indecisive? Facebook or Google or Bing or any number of other social media can help you with that.

So let’s say that two driverless cars collide. It’s just a fender bender. Do they still exchange data?

The future is:

  • a mystery
  • a cunundrum
  • an algorithm
  • dystopian
  • pre-determined
  • robotic
  • in the palm of my hand
  • in coffee dregs
  • ours
  • theirs
  • in the stars
  • exhilirating
  • a “we’ll see” kind of thing

Throwback: Wonders

The umbrella man's singsong "umbrellaumbrellaumbrella" rings in the air

The umbrella man selling umbrellas for

Five dollars, like a throwback Thursday thing

Takes me racing to an era long long ago and

A short time past, when every corner rang with

The sing song umbrellaumbrellaumbrella a lilt in

The air, the homeless then, like the man sheltering

In the subway entrance were everywhere, and a part of

The fabric of New York, one for each drop of rain in

That era long long ago, how much nostalgia can we feel

For the singsong of umbrella sales and the tragedy of

A man with no home, huddled in an unwelcoming corner

The old slippery slope

© Tamara Beck

Ethics can be a very slippery concept. The participants (or perpetrators) of the college admissions scandal can give you a peek into just how slimy things can get. Their goals to be perfect and helpful parents interfered with their judgement.

Facebook may have a similar case of impairment to its moral compass. FB’s goal to turn a profit makes its users (aka customers) vulnerable to an algorithm of greed.

This is not the way the panelists at the Baruch luncheon, Humans, Algorithms and Ethics? during the school’s Ethics Week would have put it. It is my own conclusion and judgement.

FB is not the only one turning us into data points on a schematic. “Nothing personal, just business.” All of your on-line adventures end with information gathered and a profile collected.

One of the panelists, Yafit Lev-Aretz, said that the web knew her better than she knows herself. An admiral admission from a woman who seems so self-possessed and savvy.

The goal to be profitable makes FB, Google and their ilk use something called “Choice Architecture” to drive us to preferences we may not be fully aware of having. Your interests may not be your own and the choices you make may not be totally voluntary. “Choice Architecture” injects an element of the duplicitous in the ways our favorite search engines guide us. We look for information from them; the trade-off is how much they in turn learn about us. And how they use what they find out about us to target our “user experience.”

Google, Bing, Ask, and all the devices to which we connect, are tools. We go on our laptop to find out how to work the new toaster we bought; They market new products, and more ominously, ideas.

With the latter, we are truly in a descent. Suggesting how we should act and what we should think is manipulative, to say the least. They are not stealing who we are but how we act in the world. It violates not our identity, but our agency.

The panel on March 19 at Baruch’s Ethics Week luncheon:

Yafit Lev-Aretz is an Assistant Professor of Law at the Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College, City University of New York.

Nizan Geslevich Packin is an Assistant Professor of Law at Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College, City University of New York.

Maria Blekher is a Director of YU Innovation Lab and an Academic Program Director for the Master in Marketing.