Students urge focus on business impact and ethics

The group hosts speakers and attends conferences to encourage its members to bring ethics into the business world.

Amy Horst

Some Carlson School of Management students do not see one bottom line – they see three.

Of these students seeing triple, about 25 are members of Net Impact, a national group of business students and professionals who want to use the power of business to improve the world.

These students say it is important for companies to focus not only on profits, but also on the social and environmental impact they make on the world – or, as it is known in the business world, the triple bottom line.

The group hosts speakers and attends conferences to encourage its members to bring ethics into the business world.

“With the developments a few years back of major accounting scandals, there were a lot of negative feelings toward corporations in general,” said Mark Hussian, president of Net Impact’s University chapter. “We push for educating people on the impact a company has throughout society and in our environment and how we as business majors can make positive changes along those lines.”

Nationally, Net Impact was founded as Students for Responsible Business in 1993, and the University chapter was founded four years ago.

Two weeks ago, members traveled to a conference in Austin, Texas, attended by 800 other Net Impact members from around the world, Hussian said.

One of the group’s main goals is to raise awareness of ethical and sustainable corporate practices among the business community, said Jennifer Beske, vice president of Net Impact’s University chapter.

She said it is important to make sure companies contribute to the world rather than just express their devotion to societal and environmental issues.

Consumers face a similar problem, Beske said. Often, ethical and environmentally friendly businesses’ products cost more, causing consumers who want to support these businesses to buy lower-cost products from possibly less ethical businesses.

Terry Foecke, a Carlson School of Management professor and managing partner of Materials Productivity LLC in Richfield, Minn., said it is important for people to reward companies that conduct business ethically.

“Anything you do with your money or do with your time, you should know the effects of those decisions,” Foecke said.

Currently, many large companies are discovering their world impact and coming up with new approaches to business, Foecke said.

“People are finally becoming aware that there’s more to business than just making money,” Foecke said. “Part of the issue is the effect you’re having on all your stakeholders – as people become aware of that, there’s more demand for change.”

Foecke said stakeholders do not only include company employees and shareholders but also the communities in which they operate.

However, despite improvements, Foecke said he is still concerned ethical conduct is usually seen as something extra, not required.

“If it came down to ethics or money, money would still win,” Foecke said.

Bill Shopp, a management field service leader at Honeywell, said companies can ensure business is done ethically in many ways.

At Honeywell, employees are required to attend an annual ethics training session, and the company’s monthly newsletter – which all employees receive via e-mail – discusses ethics issues. The newsletter gives examples of ethical violations that have recently occurred at the company, with the names of people involved removed, and tells employees how to avoid such pitfalls.