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Green not greed – ethical standards in green economics

A RIO+20 statement by Ethical Business BUilding the Future (ebbf)

Rio de Janeiro – Ethical Business Building the Future (ebbf), an international forum representing business people across 70 countries highlights one of the challenges in the debate over the green economy in the lead up to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro June 2012: the lackof confidence among the major players, especially governments and business, in applying ethical principles.

Those governments that seek only to defend their national economy and self interest, and those businesses that seek only to maximize profits, will judge ethical considerations like justice and equity to be irrelevant to economic and political reality. The natural result is a deep public suspicion of the motives behind those who propose initiatives like the green economy.

It is against this backdrop that ebbf calls for new ethical standards in economic life. Although it recognizes the efforts made in recent years, it asserts that in every sphere of human activity the relationships that sustain society need to be recast; in each, the world seeks examples of how human beings should be to one another.. The economic life of humanity has recently embroiled so many people. Injustice seems to be tolerated with indifference and disproportionate gain is often regarded as the emblem of success. Such pernicious attitudes are so deeply entrenched that economic proposals of whatever colour are seen as suspect.

Individuals increasingly understand the need strive to act responsibly and ethically. Transparent and immediate social information is exposing the way political, social, business and religious leaders have succumbed to social pressure, ignored the call of their conscience, and justified any means in order to achieve their goals.

Yet, as so many people in businesses and business organizations have demonstrated, it is possible to rise above the prevailing standards, such as by avoiding dishonesty in one’s transactions or the economic exploitation of others. They recognize that there should be no contradiction between one’s economic conduct and one’s beliefs. Many already acknowledge that the acquisition of wealth should be governed by the requirements of justice and that the generation of wealth should enrich the generality of the people, not just the few who are already rich.

Both employers and employees, for example, are bound by the laws and conventions that regulate their work, and each is expected to carry out his or her responsibilities with honesty and integrity. At another level, however, if the deeper implications of justice are to be realized, other preconditions to the legitimate acquisition of wealth must be taken into account, and prevailing norms reassessed in their light. Here, the entitlement of workers to a fair share of the profits merits careful evaluation, especially in light of the contribution workers make to a company’s success. Consideration must also be given to the relationship between the minimum wage and the cost of living. The wide margin between the production costs of certain goods and the price at which they are sold likewise requires attention. As so many businesses have found, and what reflection and inquiry will no doubt make abundantly clear to others is that certain approaches to obtaining wealth, for example those that involve the exploitation of others, the monopolization and manipulation of markets, and the production of goods that promote violence and immorality are unworthy and unacceptable and ultimately unsustainable.

Through their own experience and reflection on these issues, ebbf members have identified some elements of a business strategy to respond to this challenge. Businesses should shift away from products and services that are unhealthy, misuse resources and bring disunity by emphasizing extremes of wealth, and should instead innovate by designing new products that protect the planet’s limited resources and support long term prosperity for all of the world’s population.

Business leaders whose actions are founded in universally accepted values and principles such as justice and gender balance ensure their long term success, and even short term motivational and economic advantages. We need to move in business and society towards a dynamic coherence between the material and spiritual dimensions of human life, adopting a humble posture of learning since we do not have all the answers, and using cycles of action and reflection in a spirit of open consultation to find our way forward.

While material growth is reaching its limits, there are other dimensions of human life that can continue to advance: knowledge, science, culture, beauty, and cooperation in a spirit of equity. Given the urgency of the economic, social and environmental crises facing the planet, the time to act is now.

ebbf applauds the reaction in the past 20 years of international business organizations that promote sustainable development and corporate responsibility. Yet more needs to be done.

By applying in one’s life principles of fairness and equity, each person can uphold a standard far above the threshold by which the world now measures itself. Humanity is weary for want of a pattern of life to which to aspire; we should aim for actions in our businesses and communities which will give hope to the world.


ebbf is a unique, spiritually inspired global network present in 70 countries, enabling individuals to build a new civilization through their daily work. It sees its mission as contributing to a prosperous, sustainable and just civilization by promoting and applying ethical values, personal virtues and moral leadership in business and civil society. The ebbf community endeavors to inspire, and empower people whatever their work may be with its mindful people, meaningful work community platform providing capacity building, practical tools and a global community of like-minded individuals. For more information or about ebbf section.

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