Market Your Ethics

Last Updated Jun 5, 2008 7:26 PM EDT

Coffee Man JuanEthics has never been more important in business because people have never been more conscious of the ethics involved in the companies they buy from, invest in, or do business with.

From socially-conscious investing, to assessing the environmental impact of goods and services, to the political bent of a large corporation, ethics is playing an increasingly large role in today's business decision-making. Consumers have shed their blinders, and companies are weighing more factors than the bottom line in determining that not every client is a good client.

If your company has high ethical standards, I commend you. Now sell it. It's an easy way to build a feel-good niche, to establish a brand identity, and then build on it with a quality product or service. Take the case of Cafedirect, the UK-based hot drink company. In the 1990s, they were the first mainstream "fair trade" coffee brand. People liked the taste of the coffee, and the taste of the fair trade idea. By 2002, they had an 8 percent share of the UK coffee market, and then they took their feel-good niche and bolstered it further with traditional advertising tactics -- fetishized images of escape, naturalness and pleasure. Cafedirect is now the 5th largest coffee brand in the United Kingdom.

Quality and value are still going to come first. But if it's a case of ceteris paribus, a strong ethical image can make the difference between you and your competitor. Doing the right thing doesn't need an incentive, but it's still nice to have one.

  • William Baker

    William Baker is a freelance writer living in Cambridge, MA. His work has appeared in Popular Science, the Boston Globe Magazine, the New York Daily News, Boston Magazine, The Weekly Dig and a bunch of other places (including Field & Stream, though he doesn't hunt and can't really fish). He is a regular contributor to the Boston Globe, where he writes the weekly column, "Meeting the Minds." He holds a master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and is at work on his first book.