Why taking an intersectional approach to ethics matters
Brands continue to clamour to show they are woke, green and generally squeaky clean. But, by addressing ethics on a micro level, they could be undoing their hard work and discrediting themselves with increasingly discerning consumers. Planet Shine’s CEO Rachel McClelland shares her views on why it’s crucial that brands don’t work in ‘ethical silos’ – plus her practical advice on how to prevent it
In 2022, there’s little excuse for brands to not be thinking about their impact. But this can’t happen at the expense of commercial viability. In an ever-shifting landscape, businesses need to demonstrate ethics and empathy whilst continuing to focus on profits and growth.
That might sound impossible, and that’s because we have all been living, working, and doing business within patriarchal and capitalist structures for as long as we can remember. While these old-fashioned structures might work for the 1%, they’re failing everyone else.
When we start to look at mission-driven business, we can start to create an equilibrium which works for everyone. That doesn’t mean you can’t still ‘win big’ commercially – it just means we must consider people, planet, profit, and other species in equal measures, and consider the intersectionality* of ethics.
1. All brands need a mission
Whether you’re an SME or a huge conglomerate, your organisation needs a purpose – and to work holistically, you need to understand how that purpose fits into the bigger picture. You need to really understand your brand’s place in the broader ecosystem and what is driving you and your team. You might be focused on the planet, but as soon as you shift your view to consider the whole ‘ecosystem’, you might find that this lens becomes wider. It’s fine to have a niche, but it’s important to think about your impact on everything that niche touches.
2. Have a holistic approach to your growth strategy
Obviously, to run a successful business, this mission needs to be interwoven with your growth plan. As a starting point, Planet Shine’s Sustainability Voice Framework always begins with audit and analysis, because until you understand where you are, you can’t plan to move forward. To that end, it is important to undertake intersectional analysis – look at your impact and how it affects the environment, human rights, civil rights, LGBTQ, animal rights… the list goes on. Is your supply chain affecting any of these areas? Can you genuinely call yourself a sustainable and an ethical brand, if so?
3. Be proactive, not reactive
Sometimes you can’t win – when major events hit the headlines, as a brand you’re either accused of tokenism or staying quiet. To combat this, organisations need to do the work and carefully consider their reactions. Don’t automatically jump on the news cycle bandwagon – it's better to be open and authentic. Say ‘this has made us think’, ‘we’re going to partner with the right organisations’, or ‘we’re going to do some work internally’.
It’s likely you’ll find it easier to comment on after some time spent reflecting but also, if you have already aligned your mission with your business plan, you’ll know your position and you’ll be able to make an informed decision as to how to not just comment – we need action after all – but how to do the right thing and make a difference.
4. Think about the big picture
You can’t do everything overnight. Each business will have its own challenges when it comes to intersectional ethics.
At Planet Shine, we start with the basics, looking at your mission, your employees and how your vision and mission extends to them, your office setup and how sustainable it is or can be, or things to flag with future suppliers to ensure they’re the right fit for your business.
To that end, nobody is suggesting you cut off existing contracts or suppliers – even if their credentials leave a little to be desired – if it will ruin your business model or cause you major issues but you can begin to influence change right across your entire value chain. You can engage with all your stakeholders – your employees, your customers, your suppliers, your local community and have a two-way conversation so that both parties learn from each other. Above all, the best thing you can do is be honest and reassure your customers that you’re on a journey to becoming more sustainable.
5. Communicate with your entire network
It might sound basic, but once you’ve done the work, it’s vital to communicate it to your whole network. From investors to twitter followers, suppliers to core customers – having an honest and transparent relationship with your entire network and being receptive to feedback is the most effective way to ensure you continue to learn and grow. This is where step three of our Sustainable Voice Framework comes into play; we help create your voice platform and messaging.
But why now? It feels like we’re reaching fever pitch. The climate crisis and civil unrest present pressing and urgent issues – but it does feel like there’s a real exciting opportunity bubbling up, too. Changes need to happen, but there are enough of us working hard in the areas where change is most needed.
This gives us the chance to dream up what sort of planet we want to live on – and take an all-encompassing approach to include everyone. We have an opportunity to take the idyllic times of the past, combine them with the innovations of the future and create the best world yet – and as businesses, we’re the ones holding the torch.
*All oppression is linked; the interconnected nature of social categorisations such as race, class, gender, species, as they apply to a given individual or group regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage, usually as a direct result of the exploitative nature of patriarchal, capitalist and colonialist systems.