The Morality, Ethics, and Values of Climate Change-Related Decision-Making

by Russell Salazar

What must a socially responsible organization do in the midst of a changing climate? Besio and Pronzini (2014) write that discourse on climate change has been transforming into a moral debate, and businesses and organizations must react. They take a closer look at the use of morality as a communicative tool, and analyze its relationship with the decision-making processes of organizations with regard to sustainability.

Reactions to moral pressures, are not as straightforward as one may think. Morality has essentially become a communicative tool; society communicates disapproval of particular behaviors to firms, and firms respond and change to place themselves back into a good light. This communication can sometimes result in profound differences in the operations of businesses, contributing greatly to the mitigation of climate change. On the other hand, firms can utilize this form of communication as a means of gaining popularity, employing a façade that does not work directly toward (and could, in some cases, work against) mitigating climate change.

There is clear heterogeneity in the responses of businesses to the societal push for sustainability as a moral practice. The authors attempt to understand these responses by providing a theoretical framework for the interactions between a firm’s decision-making and changing moral values. They state, “One can observe that these entities transform values into something with which they can cope.” Companies will take on sustainability practices if they result in greater efficiency and saved costs in the long term. Businesses will also publish their ‘responsible’ efforts and present them as a marketing strategy, if it can have the effect of raising demand. However, if a moral value runs against economic logic, other tactics may be employed to divert the attention of the masses; the use of morality could incentivize potentially detrimental outcomes. The use of morality as a mechanism for societal momentum toward climate change mitigation is not necessarily an effective strategy. Besio and Pronzini therefore argue for a more sociological approach to investigations on the risks and benefits of morality in the fight against climate change.

Besio, C., Pronzini, A., 2014. Morality, Ethics, and Values Outside and Inside Organizations: An Example of the Discourse on Climate Change. Journal of Business Ethics 119, 287–300.

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