How Can the Three Ethical Principles of Permaculture be Applied to Business Ethics?


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How Can the Three Ethical Principles of Permaculture be Applied to Business Ethics?

  1. 1. How Can the Three Ethical Principles of Permaculture be Applied to BusinessEthics?James LlewellynSenior Managing Consultant, Atkins LimitedIn recent weeks, the UK news has been dominated by increasingly lurid allegations that theNews of the World newspaper hacked into the mobile telephone voicemail accounts of amurdered schoolgirl and relatives of UK service men killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ratherthan being the work of a rogue individual, the phone hacking seems to have beenencouraged by an organisational culture of getting a news story (and hence sellingnewspapers) at any price. The sight of the octogenarian Rupert Murdoch, scurrying to theUK in order to try and limit the commercial damage to his business empire, is a somewhatdepressing indictment of the priorities that many businesses seem to have. The question iswhether there is a better way to do business?The three ethical principles of permaculture provide an alternative vision for businesses toconduct themselves; one based on dignity and respect rather than the relentless pursuit ofmonetary profit.Earth Care: Every business on the planet uses the earth’s natural resources – such aswater, plants, animals and energy. If these resources are not replaced and become lesscommon, the price will go up and directly affect the bottom line. It is basic economics. Agood example is oil, the cost of which is causing many businesses who rely on road or airtransport to complain to anyone who will listen (although they don’t seem to realise that asconsumers they are actually part of the problem). Both government and business have, todate, been very slow to wake up to the fact that Peak Oil – the point at which suppliesdescend into an irreversible decline – will completely change the way that we have toorganise business activity. Given the reliance on natural resources, care for the earthshould actually be a business imperative rather than a “nice to have”.People Care: The recent economic downturn has unfortunately exposed many businessesand governments as being more concerned with their short term financial bottom line thanthe long term development of people and their careers. The mass redundancies seen inmany organisations have given the impression that people are commodities who can bebought (in the good times) and sold (when things get tough). Apologists for the “hire andfire” approach would no doubt say that businesses are not charities and have to make aprofit; and therefore the end justifies the means. In response it might be worth askingwhere all the profits, generated in the economic boom years, actually went? Were they setaside for a “rainy day” so that businesses and their staff could become more resilientagainst future economic downturns? No, the profits were often invested in complexfinancial derivative schemes as a means of making yet more money; and as it turns out atleast some of those schemes have made a direct contribution to the various debt crises thathave been sweeping the globe since the autumn of 2007. We can’t easily undo themistakes of the last four years; but we businesses can take a lead and make care forpeople (staff, customers and local communities) a fundamental part of their future vision.Fair Share: Anyone who watches the dismal TV show The Apprentice will know that, in theeyes of business moguls like Lord Alan Sugar, there is only one winner. Business isportrayed as a cut throat environment where you have to kill or be killed. In this kind ofworld view, there is certainly little room for sharing of success never mind more financialconsiderations such as wages and bonuses. Thankfully in reality, there is actually a fairdegree of co-operation and sharing within businesses as people recognise that they have towork together to deliver an outcome that is greater than the sum of individual efforts. Butmore could be done to promote genuine co-operation rather than the use of targets topromote competition. Many of the “mis-selling” problems associated with financial productssuch as mortgages and payment protection insurance can be directly attributable to sales
  2. 2. targets. And in the long term of course, companies found guilty of breaking financialstandards have paid a heavy price in terms of their reputation.Therefore the three permaculture principles are not fluffy aspirations; they should be seenas business imperatives to be ignored at our collective peril.This article may be reproduced free of charge as long as an acknowledgement isgiven.