Abstract: In debates around what constitutes an ethical (sustainable, responsible, etc.) company, it is often assumed that we know and agree on what these terms mean. That is rarely the case, though. Like 'globalisation' and 'culture', 'ethics', 'sustainability' and 'CSR' have thus become residual categories. Based on detailed work studies within three avowedly sustainable businesses - a property company, a consultancy and an oil company - I argue that organisations produce their own rights and wrongs. Responsible behaviour then emerges as multiple and often conflicting ways of doing things. In coming to grips with the idea of a sustainable company, I identify three mechanisms by which professionals manage to cope with such complexity: by producing an infinite number of standards, by using only certain technologies and rejecting others and, lastly, by creating sophisticated vocabularies to describe the inferiority of other companies/people with ethical aspirations.
Christian Toennesen was the first recipient of the James Martin Scholarship, enabling him to pursue a doctorate in Management Studies at the Said Business School. As part of his studies, he has spent time at CERN in Geneva, at University of California Berkeley, in the Russian Arctic as well as The Hague. He has lectured on topics such as innovation & sustainability, sociology of technology and business ethics to undergraduates and MBA students. Professionally, Christian is delighted to put his skills to work in areas where nothing is ever just black and white. His greatest CR interests revolve around how media organisations can raise the bar for social and environmental awareness and performance, and how industrial enterprises can successfully align sustainability practice with business strategy. A Navy alumnus, he has degrees in information science and sociology of technology. Born and bred in Denmark, Christian lives in London and spends his spare time trying to get under the 3-hour mark on the marathon distance.