Villing & Company

No Good Deed...

A headline in the Wall Street Journal asks "Does Being Ethical Pay?" It's a good question, but is it the right one?

We've all heard the expression "No good deed goes unpunished." Usually this adage is not so much cynical as it is said in jest after an attempt to do good goes awry. Now, it turns out there are actually real benefits to doing good.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article documenting the potential return on investment for being a good corporate citizen. The Journal’s research was fascinating. It revealed that consumers are willing to pay a premium price for goods or services produced by ethical companies. Maybe more telling was the conclusion that consumers will effectively punish companies perceived unethical in their production processes.

For example, the research showed that coffee consumers were willing to pay as much as 17 percent more for a pound of coffee produced with ethical production standards. Conversely, they said they would pay nearly 30 percent less when a company was thought to be using unethical production standards. More examples (and related opinions) can be found at www.WSJ.com/BusinessInsight.

For anyone who believes in business ethics and integrity, it is certainly reassuring to know that being ethical does have positive financial consequences. There is a more important question, however. Rather than being ethical because it pays, isn’t it better to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do? One would hope so. It’s like the current "green marketing" trend. Marketers in a wide variety of industries are jumping on the bandwagon. Many are doing it for the right reasons and truly believe that their practices will make the world a better place. Unfortunately, some are simply going green because it’s the marketing approach du jour.

Consumers are not dumb. They can see through hype. They want to know "where's the beef?" If they become convinced that there's little substance behind the claims, cynicism will soon follow and the whole movement will be marginalized.

So, by all means, do good (or as the Google guys say, "Don't be evil"). But the best good of all will be good done for the right reasons. In that world, everyone wins.

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