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Business Ethics 101

June 10, 2010

For more than a decade, academics, best-selling authors, and leaders all over the world have recognized the new challenge of raising a workforce prepared for the quickly changing and growing scope of responsibilities of business professionals on an increasingly flat, integrated, transparent, and global playing field.

Healthy triple bottom line - people, planet, and profit

The next generation of business leaders will be held accountable for a healthy triple bottom line -- people, planet, and profit.

While traditional business goals focused almost solely on the bottom line, the next generation of business leaders is charged with producing, and will be held accountable for, a healthy triple bottom line – people, planet, and profit.

“The nation needs to do a much better job teaching and measuring advanced 21st-century skills that are the indispensible currency for participation, achievement, and competitiveness in the global economy,” states a report by the Partnership for 21st-Century Skills. According to the report, these necessary skills include the following, all of which will require great sensitivity to ethical behavior:

  • Thinking critically and making judgments
  • Solving complex, multidisciplinary, open-ended problems
  • Creative and entrepreneurial thinking
  • Communicating and collaborating
  • Making innovative use of knowledge, information, and opportunities
  • Taking charge of financial, health, and civic responsibilities

Businesses benefit from doing the right thing

The challenge seems overwhelming at times because ethical decision making includes consideration of what is good for all current and future stakeholders, requiring more depth and breadth in terms of understanding social and environmental consequences of business behaviors.

A classic example of a business ethical dilemma is marketing tobacco to teens. Should business executives have to ask themselves, Are we “marketing to” or “exploiting” a vulnerable population? The College of Business says, yes, they should be asking that question. And done correctly, businesses can benefit from doing the right thing in the process.

“We teach why ethics is good strategy and how corporate social responsibility aligns with business objectives,” explains Assistant Professor of Marketing Kelly Martin. “For example, many excellent companies first identify their top-selling products or most profitable customer groups and then align them with social causes important to those groups as part of their strategic plan.”

Most business school curricula require a business ethics course, and many instructors make a point to include case studies and discussion about ethics in their particular discipline.

Students must be aware of their own ethical standards


The College of Business teaches student to view ethics and social responsibility as elements of all the decisions they make.

“In the management department, we are concerned with two broad areas of ethics: personal ethical behavior and corporate social responsibility,” says Dan Ganster, Department of Management chairman and the Richard and Lorie Allen Professor of Business Administration.

“We try to stress that students must be aware of their own ethical standards and apply them to decisions that they make. They must also understand the forces such as group norms, organizational incentives, and leadership pressures that may motivate ethical people into unethical practices,” he continues.

Range of ethical subjects

Other subject matter in business courses may include discussion about the following topics:

  • Abusive and intimidating behavior
  • Lying
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Bribery
  • Corporate intelligence
  • Discrimination
  • Sexual harassment
  • Environmental issues
  • Fraud
  • Consumer fraud
  • Insider trading
  • Intellectual property rights
  • Privacy issues

Ethical failings of business continue

Strong ethics education is a priority for the Colorado State University College of Business.

Even though many corporations have purposefully made social responsibility and business ethics a core part of their strategic mission, it still is not enough collectively as the world continues to witness ethical failings of business that negatively affect stakeholders on a massive scale. That is why the College of Business continues its mission to fully integrate ethics education from a multidisciplinary approach.

“I think it’s important for students to view ethics and social responsibility as elements of all the decisions that they make, whether they be about financial reporting, designing reward systems, or building a sustainable supply chain,” says Ganster.

It's not time to pull back

Some might say that with constrained budgets, we do not have time to worry about ethics education. But the College of Business says the need is too great, especially when ethical pressures may be heightened in tough economic times. It is not time to pull back.

“The College of Business is poised to come out strong with ethics education, to run with it and be a leader,” says Martin.

Excerpt from story originally published in the College of Business alumni magazine, The Difference, Spring 2010.