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Ranking the most ethical companies in the world

What are the ethics of advertising ethics?

As we currently wrestle with a definition of design ethics, I have been struck by another question: what does the endgame for this project look like?

Not to jump ahead too far, but assuming we come up with a model of “good” design, what next?

I think we ask: What can be done to educate designers and consumers on good ethical practices? Moreover, how can we hope to enforce those ethics?

This post was inspired by Ethisphere, a business ethics think-tank that also publishes a magazine on the topic. I learned about them last week during this piece on NPR.

Besides their mission, what interested me is how they create awareness about business ethics in accessible ways. Ideally, if corporations and the public are better informed about ethics, that may serve as a kind of enforcement. Therefore, as we enter into the next stage of DLB — publication — I am interested in metrics and visualizations people use to talk about ethics.

For instance, Ethisphere has an annual list of the most ethical companies in the world. I can’t begin to imagine what a task it would be to compile a list of the most ethical designs, but it’s an idea. People like lists. They’re easy to digest and a good way to get people interested in complex topics.

Graphs are nice, too:

World's Most Ethical Companies versus S&P 500
According to Ethisphere, ethical leadership leads to greater profits. It’s something we’ve been saying for a while, but now we have proof of it in handy chart form. Via Ethisphere.

I’m a bit skeptical about Ethisphere’s methodology, however. Participation in the index seems to be voluntary, so it’s not exactly comprehensive. It seems to be a more collegial affair; the magazine isn’t out there doing investigative journalism. There is no “least ethical companies in the world” list each year. (Though, I’d like to see that, too.)

I wonder why this is the case? On one hand, as a company that needs to sell magazines and fill conferences, how objective can Ethisphere afford to be? Who is to say they aren’t creating their own market by judging unfairly? Or being too generous to avoid stepping on toes? On the other hand, if they aren’t ethical or objective themselves, then they can’t claim any kind of authority. The more I think about it, the more complex the situation becomes.

I think DLB is in a similar pickle. How can one sell ethics in a trustworthy way?

I will try to figure that out on Thursday. See you then!

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NickFeb 24, 2009

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