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Natural Choices top ethical business books- 2007 17.12.07

Jonathan Porritt, Adrian Henriques, Simon Zadek, John Grant, Chris Anderson, and Paul Allen – the quality of books on ethical business and corporate social responsibility has never been better.

Ethical business, pioneered by small start-ups and co-operatives, has had a great year in 2007, the ethical consumer sector has blossomed with consumers looking for authentic ethical products. At the other end of the scale Corporate Social Responsibility is taking some large companies from mere compliance with the law onto seriously looking at how they can change their business practices and increase their profits at the same time.

Capitalism as if the World Mattered- Jonathan Porritt, Earthscan/ Forum for the Future

A well argued case for why all businesses should not only embrace sustainability as a core business tenet, but also why doing so will actually increase the effectiveness of their long term operations, and support their bottom line. Porritt and the Forum for the Future have worked closely with some on the UK’s largest corporations pulling them round to find more sustainable ways to work, the results have been a mixed bag but the overall conclusion is that companies can be greener and maintain their commitments to their shareholders of maximising profits. Whether they can be sustainable and do the same is an altogether different question.

Order your copy of Capitalism as if the World Mattered- Jonathan Porritt

Corporate Truth: The Limits to Tranparency- Adrian Henriques, Earthscan

All companies have secrets, the deals they do to win contracts, how they invent the products, how they manage their portfolios, all these are perfectly acceptable in the day to day work of the market. The area however gets greyer when its involves issues about supply chains, how much are the workers in the outsourced production units being paid, the environment- what is the companies true carbon footprint for example. The place where companies interact with Government is possibly one of the darkest of all, from behind the door lobbying to outright corruption and all the staging post in between- juts look at the on-going scandals about Party funding going on in 2007. Adrian Henriques starts out with the premise that corporate transparency is a ‘good’ thing, for shareholders, company directors, wider stakeholders and ultimately for the companies themselves. He looks at the responsibilities a company has both to its shareholders and the society at large, where are the issues and what can and should be addressed. He also looks at what are the limits, competitive edge is very difficult to maintain in a totally open situation, where those limits should be. Transparency is at heart a question of communication, it is not enough to ‘databomb’ interested parties with masses of useless info, nor on the other hand to create a world of shadows and mirrors where the truth, if it exists is so distorted it is unrecognisable. For Henriques, corporate transparency is about realising the full impact of a business, and identifying the stakeholders effected- and then providing them with the information they need on how they are effected. This is one of the best books on what are the real communication responsibilities of a company and should be required reading for all public company directors, their PR team and the CSR crew.

Order your copy of Corporate Truth: The Limits to Tranparency- Adrian Henriques

The Civil Corporation: The New Economy of Corporate Citizenship- Simon Zadek, Earthscan.

Where as Henriques looks at one aspect of corporate responsibility, Simon Zadek from Accountability, looks at the whole role of corporations in society. Since the 1950’s their has been an economic argument that the free market and the corporations are its building blocks, if left to themselves, will provide the most efficient solutions to human needs. This theory, or belief, reached its pinnacle during the years of Thatcher and Reagan, Margaret Thatcher even famously proclaimed ‘There is no such thing as society There are individual men and women, and there are families.’ For the grandfather of modern free market thinking, Milton Friedman a responsible business was one that sought to make as much profit as possible. In his world it was the role of business to make money, and the role of governments to stay out of the way, and merely provide the legislative framework to allow business to do it job. Today in a world of climate change, unbalanced trade, Enron and Northern Rock the failures of the market are all too obvious. However the ability, and willingness, of politicians to curb the excesses of the business sector is increasingly limited. In an age of outsourced production and multi-national companies just trying to actually find out who is doing what and where is complicated enough. However climate change is a classic case where governments, and international institutions such as the United Nations and the European Union are trying to deal with the clear market failures of business to address the long term issues of the environment.

What Zadek argues is that the old view that there is business on one hand and government on the other no longer corresponds to reality, business is partly government. Just as government is held responsible by voters business is now held responsible for its actions, not juts by its shareholders but by all its stakeholders, not least its customers. This means that solely seeking to maximize profit regardless of other concerns will not serve the full interest of corporations in the future. The Civil Corporation is an investigation, and ultimately an action plan for how companies can deal with, and profit from, their increasing role in society. It remains the best book in its field of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Order your copy of The Civil Corporation: The New Economy of Corporate Citizenship- Simon Zadek

The Green Marketing Manifesto. John Grant, Wiley

John Grant, ex of St. Lukes the ethical advertising agency, is one of the most proflic writers on new marketing trends. He also happens to be very environmentally aware in his outlook. The book tackles the main greenwash versus genuinely green marketing issues as well as giving important tips on telling the difference. The key point is that green marketing is making green things normal, not normal things green. This is a crucial point so often missed by marketers jumping on the green band wagon. A classic example would be the Flybe’s ‘ecolabelling’ which apart from the utterly ridiculousness of their claims added insult to injury by claiming that extra leg room was somehow ‘eco’. All marketing campaigns naturally have a commercial aspect, companies wouldn’t do marketing if the net result was not a profit positive one, a green campaign should also have a green outcome, ie replacing an energy intensive product with a carbon neutral one but Grant a truly green marketing campaign is one that does not make a minor difference but one which creates a real step change in culture., A good example would be the way that cruelty free cosmetics from the Body Shop placed animal testing on the agenda of all cosmetic companies, and lead to a huge cleaning up, though not eradication, of this practice. This book has some internal conflicts, for the green approach when faced with choices is really whether to cut or switch. For green marketing the objective is to switch from one product to another rather than decide to do without at all. However overall the book casts new insight into green marketing. The book works well with Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail on micro niches in demographics.

Order your copy of The Green Marketing Manifesto. John Grant

The Long Tail: How Endless Choice Is Creating Unlimited Demand Chris Anderson, Random House

Anderson first coined the term The Long Tail back in an article for Wired magazine in 2004. The essential point he was making was that in a digital world of the likes of, netflix and youtube the collective revenue publishers and e-commerce players make from the sales of the 10,000s of back stock is actually higher than the revenue they make out of the handful of mega hits each year. Anderson’s key point was the economies of scale, distribution through the net, and low cost of downloading means that in certain markets- like books, films, music the idea of the market needs to be re-defined into thousands of mini niches, with the opinion formers who set fashion and define cool no longer the broadcasters of TV and national press but individual bloggers and writers who each contribute to defining the identity of each niche. Now linking this to green or ethical may seem tangential but in fact it isn’t, ethical consumerism is actually a series of niches, from the healthy shopper who buys organic because it is perceived as more nutritious, to the raw diet vegan, those who put global social justice above and support fairtrade to those who think that no organic goods, fairtade or not, should be flown. The ethical consumer market is actually a mass of niches, with each individual’s ethics and lifestyle informing their choices, and information and education constantly defining and refining each individuals’ habits. The key lesson I got from this book is that a new green economy could utilise the power of the net by providing united distribution networks that link the myriad of small producers, service providers and information /education sources. The cross referencing nature of databases means that the full range of ethical services and products can be defined by the individual as they choose their key motivators- giving local services to one, fairtrade to others, those products and services produced by co-ops to yet others.

Order your copy of The Long Tail: How Endless Choice Is Creating Unlimited Demand Chris Anderson

innocent:Great Brand Stories John Simmons, Cyan

How one idea, three guys, a shed load of fruit and endless energy created on of the most innovative and healthiest companies in the UK. Innocent was founded in 1998 by three Oxford grads, in 2007 it was the fastest growing food and drink business in the UK. Smoothies, are basically combinations of fresh fruit and fruit juice- an instant hit of vitamins to the system. Before innocent they were virtually unknown outside the kitchens of the health conscious- freshly squeezed orange juice was about as good as it got. Across the Atlantic however smoothies have been a hit for middle class office workers for years. The boys from innocent took, gave it a cheeky marketing spin and took the UK by force. Simmons looks in detail at how a seriously focused, commercially driven business can take a stagnant sector such as non alcoholic drinks and through a combination of good product, detailed gorilla style marketing, and hard but fair deal making can make a profit, expand and stick to their core ethical principals and have a green outcomes.- healthier consumers switching to a lower footprint product. It’s a great easy read that cannot fail to inspire, and build respect both for the innocent team and their products, as well as have you laughing with the jokes and cheek of the labelling and marketing.

Your Ethical Business Paul Allen, NGO Media.

How to plan, start and succeed in a company with a conscience. Paul Allen’s book, in association with P3 Capital and NGO Media is the perfect starting place for ethically motivated entrepreneurs.

While Paul doesn’t address the core issue of what exactly an ethical business is, he points to three number key aspects that are defining factors for an ethical approach-planet, people and profit.

The book is full of ideas of how to ensure that your business deals with all three of these key aspects, and how it is important to work out your stance on all three before you start trading as your position on each one will determine not the legal entity you create, and here Paul’s book is good on the pros and cons of each company structure available, from co-op to Community Interest Company, private limited company to charity.

Your Ethical Business is a crucial and much needed start on the path of creating the support literature for ethically motivated entrepreneurs. As such it is vital reading for anyone setting off on the path of starting their own company.

Order your copy of Your Ethical Business Paul Allen

Peter Shield

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