Moral Agency & Purpose-Driven Business

Updated: Feb 22, 2020

The 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP 22) and the twelfth meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 12) recently concluded in Marrakech, Morocco. More information can be found at the COP 22 website, here.

As we discussed in our article on COP21, COP 21, Sustainable Development Goals & A Step towards Global Thinking, scientists estimate that a global temperature increase of greater than 2º C (3.6 º F) above pre-industrial levels would be catastrophic; however, if temperatures continue to increase at the current rate, an increase of approximately 5ºC (9 º F) is likely within the next two to three decades (Earth Science Data, 2014). At the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit on September 25, 2015, world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This agenda included the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 17 measurable goals that range from ending world poverty to achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls by 2030. SDG 13, Climate Action, calls for urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. Our article discussing COP21 provides a summary of the SDGs. Details about individual SDGs can be found here:

The United Nations development Programme (UNDP) has provided support to governments working to achieve the SDGs in efforts to balance what it identifies as the three pillars of sustainable growth: social progress, economic growth, and environmental protection. However, businesses have a large part to play in how well the SDGs are achieved regardless of regulatory framework, government support, or directives. Technologies exist to support companies’ efforts to measure progress towards meeting the SDGs, and these technologies are available to most businesses whether they are based in countries that require such efforts or not.  With the unanticipated paradigm shift that may be happening in the governments of some Western nations, it may soon fall to business to provide the voice of environmental leadership and innovation in the West. This will include integrating the SDGs into the structure of company vision and operation. While these changes will no doubt prove challenging, they may also offer a new opportunity for the business sector to cast a wider net as innovative, integrated and purpose-driven.

Every business model tells a story. A good business model will tell a story that supports a long-range vision and goals for long-term success. Because long-range goals must value employees, clients, and consumers, sound business models cannot be built solely on the motivation for profit. Instead, there must be room for innovative thinking, technical advances, and ethical practice. Practicing business ethically should not be dependent upon regulatory restrictions, but rather be built upon support for approaches that are inclusive of caring about humans and the human condition, with an ability to embrace social and cultural development. All business requires support from humans, as workers, clients, and consumers. And humans are moral beings, with moral agency and responsibility. As such, purpose-driven firms have a mandate to support sustainable development, especially in the midst of moral ambiguity and contradiction. Sustainable development includes socially responsible practices and actions, and environmentally responsible actions are socially responsible actions.

Climate change is the most important environmental issue facing our species, and we must turn our attention to mitigating its effects. Relentless pursuit of profit for its own sake without attention to these issues, in the end, results in no profit, because there will soon be nothing left to profit from.

The strength of the correlation between human activity and climate change is clearly illustrated here: The data used for these graphs is from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The lack of a control planet against which to assess the data denies us of the final definitive data set; however, we simply do not have a control planet, and so no reasonable arguments can be made to continue down a path that appears to lead toward planet-wide catastrophe. We must become better stewards of our Earth, and we must incorporate actions to those ends into standard business practice. It’s important to remember that we have nowhere else to go.

References & Resources

Bloomberg the Company, 2015. What’s Really Warming the World? June.

Earth System Science Data, 2014. Global Carbon Budget 2014, Abstract here:

Harvard Business Review, 2002. Why Business Models Matter. May.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration:

United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21/CMP11) website:

United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP22/CMP12) website:

United Nations Development Programme Website:

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