Principled Profit: The Good Business Blog

Musings on the world-wide movement for ethical business, frugal marketing, and how honesty, integrity, and quality combine with deep relationship building to create business success. By the originator of the Ethical Business Pledge campaign and award-winning author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First and five other books

This blog has moved to:

Get this widget!
Visit the Widget Gallery

If you'd like to get an update when we post new content, please click here to subscribe via RSS or to subscribe by e-mail.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Is it 1984 in the St Paul Pioneer Press Newsroom?

Paul Demko writes in the Twin Cites alternative paper, City Pages, about one Tim Mahoney, a part-time copy editor who attended the big September peace rally in Washington with other members of his church.

Mahoney got a stern talking-to, a three-day suspension without pay, and was removing from editing any stories about Iraq. He was told he'd be fired for a repeat offense.

The paper claimed, as it has claimed previously in another case now making its way through the grievance system--two reporters attended a rock concert that raised funds for the Kerry campaign--that Mahoney's actions were a violation of the paper's ethics policies.

Now, you know that I can be pretty loud when I see ethics violations. As the author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First, a columnist for Business Ethics magazine, and the originator of an international pledge campaign around ethics, I think I've got some credentials in this area. And while I certainly see the ethics issues if a reporter gets involved with partisan political activity that he or she is actively covering (did someone say "Judith Miller"?), I fail to find the justification here. Journalists are allowed to have personal politics, last time I checked. And a copy editor isn't even creating the story, merely making sure that it's internally consistent with its own logic and the rules of English.

This strikes me as a punitive action on the part of a newspaper that doesn't happen to agree with the stand the reporter took, and is trying to pre-emptively prevent other staffers form expressing their opinions. It reminds me of the time an employee of one of the two major soda companies was fired for drinking the competitor's product, outside of work if I remember correctly.

No one should have to leave their soul outside on the way to work.

Oil Company Profiteering on Human Misery

Let me get this straight right at the beginning: I believe in capitalism. In fact, I write books teaching people how to be better and more successful/ethical capitalists, like my award-winning most recent book, Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First.

But my sense of justice is deeply affronted by this week's news. The Washington Post story says, in part,

High prices for crude oil, gasoline and natural gas helped Exxon Mobil Corp. to its highest-ever quarterly profit, $9.92 billion, up 75 percent from the third quarter last year, the company said yesterday.

Profit in the third quarter at the world's largest publicly traded oil company set an industry record, and its sales of $100.72 billion were the highest in a quarter by U.S. company, according to Standard & Poor's.
Exxon Mobil's third-quarter profit, $9.92 billion, was the highest the oil company had ever recorded.

Oil Industry Seeks to Cast Huge Profits as No Big Deal
By most familiar comparisons, the $9.92 billion profit earned by Exxon Mobil Corp. in just three months is almost unimaginable. It would cover all Social Security benefit payments for three months. It would pay for an Ivy League education for about 60,000 kids. It would pay the average list price...

Other oil companies have reported soaring third-quarter profits this week. Royal Dutch Shell PLC, based in the Hague, said yesterday that its third-quarter profit was not far behind Exxon Mobil's: $9.03 billion, up 68 percent. London-based BP PLC reported profit of $6.53 billion, up 34 percent.
(If that link goes dead, or you want other perspectives, here's a link to a whole bunch of other stories on the same theme. That includes the YahooNews story that says Exxon Mobil "rewrote the corporate record books.)

There's nothing wrong with profit in and of itself. But could this obscene 75 percent profit possibly have something to do with increases of up to a dollar a gallon at the pump in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, which followed closely on a wave of increases that added about 40 cents a gallon even before Katrina hit? Bodies were floating through the streets of New Orleans, tens of thousands were made homeless, and meanwhile, oil company profits--not revenues, but merely the money left over in these three months after the costs of operations--$25.5 billion just from the three largest profiteers--is equal to or exceeds the entire yearly economic output of any of the world's poorest 159 countries, from Jordan on down.

While I'm fully convinced that "peak oil"--the idea that the easy-to-get stuff is gone, and that the cost of oil extraction will continue to rise rapidly as supplies diminish, and that we had darned well better get off the petroleum economy--is a reality, this is price gouging, clear and simple. I don't have enormous sympathy for the single occupant of a mammoth and usually unnecessary SUV, croaking out all of 9.6 miles per gallon in the case of a Hummer S2, but I do feel sorry for the working stiff who bought an appropriate vehicle and watched fuel costs double. And then, factor in home heating costs, which are a big factor here in the Northeast--or cooling costs elsewhere. It ain't pretty.

Surely the time has come to make a commitment, as a society, to nonpolluting, nondepletable, environmentally friendly ways of powering our economy. The technologies--solar, wind, small-scale hydro, and others--have been around for decades and continue to improve. Let's leave the profiteers out of the loop.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

A Victory for People's Democracy in Hadley, MA

I just got back from the twice-a-year Town Meeting in my small farm town of Hadley, MA, USA. Town Meeting is a New England tradition where the citizenry engages in direct democracy. Any registered voter can show up speak about any item on the agenda (one article at a time), and cast a vote for or against. The vote, in most situations, is binding on the town (sometimes the vote is only to put something on the next election ballot, and then it's only binding if the citizens vote for it the second time.)

It's an imperfect and often cantankerous process, but it actually works amazingly well.

Tonight, we finally got to vote on the town's Long Range Plan: a massive document compiled over the last five years, with tons of citizen input including surveys sent to every household, numerous meetings, and so forth. And those surveys had something incredible like a 63 percent response, so this document really does reflect the people's will. The town wants controlled, appropriate growth, in ways that do not throttle are already overcrowded roads, sewers, etc.

Unfortunately, while we've been waiting for the plan, a whole lot of commercial and large residential development proposals have come forward, and they threaten to chew up our farmland--considered by experts to be the best in the entire country--choke us in traffic, and draw down our wells. We're facing about a million square feet of new retail, in three separate massive projects, all within a half mile of each other--this in a town with fewer than 5000 residents, extensive existing mall development, and narrow two-lane roads leading through that intersection.

I got up and made a passionate speech about my experience revisiting a town some 130 miles east of here after 28 years, and not even recognizing it in the acres of concrete and parking lots and big box stores and fast food restaurants and slow food restaurants. Then I asked that we send a strong statement by adopting the plan unanimously.

Land-use issues have often been controversial in this town--but amazingly enough--I got my wish! I am hoping that this will prove a powerful weapon in the struggle to protect our town's rural agricultural heritage. And that the people who live in a town have as much right to control its destiny as the out-of-town profiteers who try to squeeze our lifeblood away.

Monday, October 24, 2005

How the NY Times Deals with Scandal Like the Catholic Church

William Powers of the National Journal says the Judith Miller caper, and the Times' earlier handling of Jayson Blair's distortions of the truth, show the responses of a self-protective power structure much like the Church's response to the priest-abuse scandals.

A fascinating perspective, and one that continues to force us to ask the questions about what Miller knew, who else at the Times knew, was she given a security clearance, and is she in any way a paid and/or covert propagandist of the government a la Armstrong Williams?

If it's been archived, the date on the column is October 21, and here's some text you can search for at Google:

On October 12, as a frustrated media establishment (plus a few scattered readers) was waiting for the paper to explain the role played by reporter Judy Miller in the case of outed spy Valerie Plame, The Times published a front-page, above-the-fold news scoop.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Pakistani Earthquake Toll Rooted in Human Corruption

Sigh. Why is it that so often after there's a natural disaster, if you dig deeply into the cause of the death toll, you find humans taking unconscionable shortcuts in construction...and other humans in charge of safety oversight looking the other way?

Last week, I happened to sit next to a very intelligent and politically aware Pakistani gentleman at a Bruce Springsteen concert. In the hour before the music started, we had a long talk. My new friend just sent me a link to the work of a Pakistani ethics writer, Ardeshir Cowasjee. His latest weekly column is all about the direct responsibility for fatalities in the recent earthquake...on the shoulders of those crooked builders and didn't-see-nuthin' officials.

Read it and weep!

But then turn to another of Cowasjee's columns, and see an example of the triumph of the human spirit.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Judith Miller Continues to be an Embarrassment

I finally got around to reading Judith Miller's account of her Grand Jury testimony, as published in the New York Times three days ago.

When I was growing up, the Times was "the paper of record." But in the decade of Jayson Blair and Judith Miller, you've got to wonder.

Where were her editors? How could they allow this rambling, repetitious essay to waltz into print? Then again, these are probably the same editors who did not question her reportage in the run-up to the war, in which she served as the Bush administration's #1 print media cheerleader, engaging in press release journalism and insider-secret journalism that was a major force in advancing support for the war that--we all know, now--did not even begin to be justified by the stated claims of weapons of mass destruction.

And then there are some other very interesting hints in this piece:

I would still like to know what really happened in that Grand Jury room--and in the numerous meetings Miller had with White House sources before the button was pushed for "shock and awe."

I'd also like to know why she deliberately misled her editors and the public by identifying Cheney's adjutant Scooter Libby as a "former [Capitol] Hill staffer, rather than as a top white House aide.

And finally, what does Miller mean in her comments about security clearances and being privy to classified information? Media critic Norman Solomon, in a strongly worded piece covering Miller's entire sordid history on Iraq, points out a big problem:

There’s nothing wrong with this picture if Judith Miller is an intelligence operative for the U.S. government. But if she’s supposed to be a journalist, this is a preposterous situation...
Interestingly, I'm more amused than bothered by the numerous inaccuracies she reports from the pages of her own notebooks. I've done journalism, I know what it's like to take notes in the field, and these sorts of bloopers are normal and unavoidable. However, a good journalist goes back over the notes while the interview is still fresh, and makes the necessary corrections. No evidence of that here!

And Judith Miller is a Pulitzer Prize winner, too. Sheesh!

Monday, October 17, 2005

Bioneers: The Future Starts Today

I spent this past weekend at an amazing and energizing conference: Bioneers By the Bay, in Dartmouth, MA. This was one of 17 Bioneers conferences held on the same weekend around the US, plus the "main event" in San Rafael, California.

At the Massachusetts gathering, some of the most creative thinkers of our time gathered with 550 activists to discuss climate change and peak oil, personal lifestyle choices and organized social action, and nonpolluting/sustainable alternatives.

Among the speakers:
  • Julia Butterfly Hill, who lived for two years and eight days in a 1000-year-old California redwood tree--until an agreement was reached to safeguard that tree's life--and who has been continually on the road as an activist since returning to the ground
  • Gunter Pauli, former CEO of Ecover who realized that his ecological detergents required destruction of rainforest--and embarked on a remarkable reclamation project
  • Anna Lappe (daughter of and co-author with Frances Moore Lappe), who travels around the world collecting and sharing wisdom from social change movements in developing countries
  • Dennis Whittle, who left the World Bank to start Global Giving, and shares the story of how a $5000 public bathroom changed the whole culture of a village
Over the next several weeks, I'll be synthesizing the abundant notes I took at this conference and posting them to my various webzines. Probably most of that will happen in late November. In any case, I'll posannouncementsts and links here when I start putting up the content. Meanwhile, you can see what you missed (including blogs and podcasts from the event) at the conference website,

Sunday, October 09, 2005

75% of Executives Have Experienced Fraud!?!

Sometimes it seems those of us who care about ethics are fighting a losing battle. My colleague, Chris Bauer, reports on some shocking findings in a survey conducted by the well-known accounting firm KPMG:
  • Of 459 executives at US companies with revenues above $250 million, 75% had experienced fraud
  • The fraud had cost 36% of the companies surveyed at least $1 million
  • For those companies experiencing fraud in the area of financial reporting, the average cost was $257,923,000 (other types of fraud had less dollar impact)
I believe the only way we can turn this around is to show businesses that ethical behavior is ultimately profitable--that's the position I advocated in my book, Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First, and I continue to advocate that position in the Ethics Pledge campaign and elsewhere. The costs of the fraud itself, the hit the company takes when it's discovered, the environmental, workplace harassment, and other lawsuits that tend to crop up against fraudulent companies, etc. etc. make this a very obvious conclusion. But apparently the business world can't see it.