According to Professor Hans De Geer
, an expert in business ethics who runs Stora Enso’s ethics workshops, ethical business is about identifying overarching company values. Being profitable is of course necessary for staying in business, but it should not be a company’s only purpose.
“Earning money is just a way of making other things possible, such as being a responsible member of society, paying wages, and creating products that are better for the environment,” says Professor De Geer. “An ethical company defines values that are important to them and can be accepted by their stakeholders. Being profitable can be aligned with those values. If profitability is a company’s only mission, that is a very narrow definition of their purpose.”
From compliance to ethics
Merely complying with laws and regulations is not enough, for Professor De Geer or for Stora Enso. Both in society and in the corporate world changes happen rapidly, and legislators cannot always keep up. An ethical company recognises the right thing to do, and understands how to turn its values into practical work.
“No company needs to be a leader in every respect, but it is important to focus on what is relevant,” Professor De Geer adds. “Do what you can do for yourselves and your stakeholders, and be a leader in that area.”
Companies may face various ethical dilemmas, depending on the industry they operate in. Fighting corruption, however, is every company’s responsibility, as corruption erodes functioning business structures and can have serious impacts on entire organisations and supply chains.
Corruption is one of the most significant compliance risks in Stora Enso’s global operations. But thankfully there is room for hope: “Awareness of ethics and sustainability is much greater today than 20 years ago,” Professor De Geer says. “Today, it is quite impossible for a company to say that environmental and social issues are not their concern. Investors are far more keen on looking for alternative investments, but it’s not only outside demand that has contributed to this change. Young, educated people want to take pride in their employer, and they look for companies with a good understanding of sustainability issues.”
Ethics workshops, an important part of the journey
So far, we have organised ethics workshops in six countries, and a total of 191 Stora Enso managers have participated. The workshops have aimed to strengthen their understanding of our company values: “Lead” and “Do What’s Right”.
“Working with people from such different backgrounds and with such wide expertise has been a privilege, and I have learned a lot myself,” Professor De Geer says. “But business ethics is not a project with an ending; you need to find ways to come back to it. Sustainability reporting, for example, forces companies to collect data and ask questions internally every year, reminding people of why this is important.”
Values are promises, and there needs to be a strong link between promises made and actions taken. Stora Enso is committed to being an ethical company, and we will continue to work hard to live up to our purpose and values.