Business ethics

The concept of business ethics began to spread in the 1960s when businesses began to become more aware that society and consumers were showing a growing interest in environmental issues and social causes.

Business Ethics or Corporate Ethics is a form of applied ethics that examines ethical and moral principles within organizations and addresses the moral problems that can arise within the workplace. The applied ethics consists of the concrete exercise and adherence to the ethical theories elaborated following the emergence of new problems relating to specific topics such as respect for the environment and people who affect the individual and collective sphere.





Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is defined as the commitment by organizations to carry out their business, pursuing corporate objectives in a responsible way, at an economic, social and environmental level, meeting the needs of current stakeholders, without harming the future stakeholders (1). It is not just a matter of respecting the regulations imposed by law, but of a voluntary initiative by companies to review their values, the way they operate in favor of an innovative and sustainable business model.

It is divided into two dimensions:

  • the internal dimension that concerns the management of human resources, respect for workers’ rights regarding health and safety, management of waste production and disposal, exploitation of natural resources.
  • the external dimension, which includes the community, suppliers, customers, concerns about environmental and social issues worldwide.





There are basically two approaches to CSR adopted by companies.

The first approach, typical of the past, sees CSR as an unnecessary cost that organizations must bear and that takes away monetary resources destined to finance production efficiency and product quality.

The second vision, however, is based on a positive relationship between CSR and companies, in which corporate social responsibility does not only represent an economic commitment but a strategic choice that in the decision-making process takes into account ethical, social and environmental issues. In the latter case, CSR is considered necessary for the company to achieve long-term profits.

Organizations that integrate sustainability into their governance model can achieve many benefits. The adoption of sustainable practices leads to a more efficient and strategic management of resources with a gradual decrease in waste and therefore costs.

Being sustainable also has absolutely positive effects on corporate reputation and improving the internal climate, with significant impacts on the well-being of workers and on the attractiveness of the workforce (2).





To these two approaches listed above, I would like to add a third one: the deceptive approach to sustainability. The latter has now become a trend and many companies activate communication campaigns with the intention of appearing green in the eyes of more attentive and sensitive consumers to divert public attention from the negative effects that their business and products cause on the environment.

Greenwashing can be understood as a marketing ecological facade  adopted by companies that try to hide their conduct not properly aligned with sustainable principles or that try to make normal business activities appear more sustainable than they are in reality.

Greenwashing practices even if they are effective in the short term, since they allow to achieve a positioning focused on corporate sustainability with benefits on turnover and image, over time they can damage the reputation of the company, losing credibility in the eyes of consumers and various stakeholders.


(1)  TUNISINI, A., PENCARELLI, T., FERRUCCI, L., 2014, Economia e management delle imprese. Milano: Hoepli


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