Perverse Trade-offs - Ethical considerations in sustainable development


Within business organizations, decisions that have far-reaching health, safety, environmental, and economic impacts on entire communities (if not nations) can be made unilaterally, sometimes literally by one individual.

Corporate managers are in the business of making trade-offs-weighing one choice against another.  But can those trade-off decisions become so faulty as to be perverse?  In this context, we define 'perverse' to mean morally and ethically reprehensible.  Dozens of high-visibility disasters caused by business activities provide ample evidence that corporate decision makers can become corrupted and unethical.

This column explores the business decision making process relative to sustainable development.  What are the internal mechanisms that ensure ethical decisions?  Clearly, some companies are extremely good at making ethical judgments.  Others have disastrous track records-an indicator that their trade-offs process had reached the perverse level.

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