Being ethical is a journey
March 22nd 2023
By Cláudia Pedra
Stone Soup Managing Partner
When we were creating Stone Soup in 2008, it took us many months to set up our Theory of Change, processes, services, and procedures. Why so long? We wanted to have a consultancy based on shared principles and values. So first we had to debate them collectively and reach a consensus. And that is not as easy as it might seem.
Each individual is raised with a set of principles and values developed over the years based on education, learning, culture and practice. When creating a business from scratch and uniting different people, many focus on complementary skills (which are indeed important) sometimes neglecting alignment of principles and values. Skills can be learned, and abilities developed, but to reach ethical alignment is just too difficult when people are too far apart. If you think principles and values are not important when setting up a business, then practice will show you are wrong.
Every year, a company may face several ethical dilemmas. As all dilemmas they are not easy to solve. They need good reasoning, good collective intelligence but they specially demand good ethical principles. Decisions may need to be taken quickly, with external pressure mounting and only ethics can save you from taking a very bad decision that can risk the reputation of your company. That means that the founders/leadership of the company must have the ethical principles so aligned that practice comes into place with little effort. Guidelines, processes, and procedures must be set up, ideally with an ethical code as backbone, but the company (and all its community) must live and breathe those principles in such a way that ethical considerations are always taken into account. That means being able to say no. No to easy procedures, no to clients, no to partners, no to everyone that challenges your ethics. Once again not easy. On the day-to-day whirlpool of consultancy it would be much easier to say yes and to progress without questioning too much. Or at least it seems so. But to say no is also an investment. An investment in coherence, in reputation, in wellbeing and happiness. It is just better to work at an ethical company, and that no one can contest, except those that put profits amongst all other things.
Being a BCorp helps us to be better
When the B Corp Movement started, Stone Soup was still a toddler. We were still striving to make our mark and to fulfil our theory of change of enhancing organisations’ positive social, economic, cultural, and environmental impact on society. But the B Corp Movement resonated on us. A movement of companies, as concerned with social and environmental impact than with financial sustainability. It was a driving movement to tell the world that companies could be a force for good and the societal impact was not relegated only to the public and third sectors. It just made sense. That is why, early on, we wanted to join. In 2016 we joined the movement as a certified B Corp. One of the most interesting parts of this certification is the reflections the B Corp assessment makes us do. At the end we not only have to be ethical, but we also must show it, with evidence. And that makes us reflect on our practices and on our coherence and it makes us become better at being ethical.
Being a B corp also partners us with likeminded companies that are willing to collaborate for collective good. And that makes us become better again, inspired by the good practices of those that are part of the same movement. So, with our own ethical core and with the backing of the B Corp movement, Stone Soup strives to be an ethical company every day.
Strengthening the ecosystem
To do so we need not only to improve our own company but the ecosystem in which we operate. That means contradicting bad practices in procurement processes, influencing fellow consultancies to work in an ethical way, partnering with other consultancies to share good practices, fighting against corruption. Making sure that whatever process we participate in, we can live the ethical principles that should be guiding us. And we should go beyond. Beyond the minimum requirements, beyond the easy fixes, and take action to transform our ecosystem.
And that takes us back to alignment. If one chooses his/her fellow founders by their business development skills alone and not their ethical principles, sooner or later you will have a huge problem. Temptation will come knocking in the format of a juicy consultancy contract and without the ethical foundations you can fall into it and just derail from the ethical pathway. That is why ethics is a journey. Every day come new challenges. We just have to be sure we are in the right company to solve them.
You can read more about Stone Soup’s Code of ethics here.