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Green Businesses' Dirty Little Secret: Implied Ethics

The question of ethics for environmental employers is a landmine issue that few people explore. In Wendy Jedlicka's recent article, she suggests that getting a job at a firm with "eco-ethics" is both difficult and desirable. Though true, this misses the more pressing questions about how ethics apply to environmental organizations.

Finding employment with any employer right now -- green or otherwise -- is difficult. However, this insight doesn't cut to the core of the question of ethics. Ethics aren't constrained to "eco" companies alone. As business schools teach the world over, ethics are universal -- both in business and in life.

What's interesting in the domain of environmental companies is that these companies rely on their "ethical business models" to attract employees more than do traditional "brown" employers. The dirty little secret is that employers -- from solar companies to sustainability consultancies and the like -- rely on jobseekers' assumption that they are ethical more than other firms because of their "eco" business models.

Having worked with employers worldwide to find and secure the top green talent, its become clear that not everyone embraces the same level of business ethics. Indeed, many businesses fail to highlight their ethics at all when we ask them what separates them from other employers.

Ethics in the environmental business are -- at present -- largely taken for granted. Yes, most employees at these firms believe they have a more ethical occupation, but the business practices themselves often don't exude ethics. Quite to the contrary, many of these businesses fail to push their ethical practices as far as their products or services.

At a time when the very value of long-standing business models has been called into question (read: investment banking, insurance, etc), it strikes me that more employers should be focusing on their ethics.

More importantly, both employees and jobseekers of green companies should be challenging these firms to "walk the walk" and create a truly triple bottom line enterprise that embraces sound ethical practices, sound environmental practices and sound business practices.

Jedlicka's article is right to raise the question about ethics, but readers should examine a company's purpose/service to determine who's ethical and who's not.

Use the interview itself as a place to ask questions about how an employer's environmental practices translate into more ethical business practices. Questions like these leave little room for maneuvering, but if a jobseeker's goal is to find an ethical employer, those that are truly ethical will jump at the chance to respond to such a question. If they don't, you may have found a case where an organization doesn't truly "walk the walk."

Continually pushing employers to keep ethics at the center of their businesses -- green or otherwise -- is the best way to ensure that your values align with your employers'.

As a managing partner at Bright Green Talent, Nick Ellis combines his passions for the environment, social enterprise and people into a daily commitment to green the U.S. workforce.

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