It has been a moving experience to talk to the participants
in our larger study of the New Zealand wine industry, who
have helped demonstrate a clear ethical case for sustainable
business practices. We argue that the ‘‘business case’’ alone
cannot fully explain companies’ engagement with sus-
tainability practices in the long term. Our examples show
that a company’s sustainable practices are often anchored
by an ethical core, which is rooted in the moral and ethical
pursuits of the individuals within the organization. Espe-
cially when the market is not perceived as sending strong
signals for external goods, individuals’ moral and ethical
beliefs become pivotal in driving sustainable initiatives and
practices of the company.
We draw particular attention to the theory of ‘virtue
ethics’ and show that virtue theory provides a useful ex-
planatory framework in making sense of various business
ethics issues through placing a focus on the moral character
of the individuals and its transformational influences in
promoting ethical business conduct. In placing an emphasis
on human values and morality, virtue theory turns the
central question of business ethics—how business should
behave—to the question of how people should behave. An
important implication is that business may be viewed as a
human enterprise with embedded ethical and moral value.
As such, the fundamental issue of business ethics becomes
the question of how individuals, as moral agents, can
promote virtuous business conduct and help foster a moral
and ethical climate in the organization as well as in society
at large. As the individuals within business make their
pursuits of internal goods, they realize the vision of busi-
ness as ‘‘a human institution in service to humans’’
In this paper,we have considered intentions ormotivations
as expressed by interviewees. In certain ways, we have ac-
cepted those as stated or presented by the individual repre-
sentatives of organizations. We have not delved into the
complexities of howwe knowmotivations, how theymanifest
in discourse and specific types of behaviors, or how they get
challenged and negotiated. Yet, the attributions of motiva-
tions are inescapable in human affairs, are profoundly rele-
vant to demonstrations and contestations of virtuousness;
thus, the question of how we know motivations, or what in-
deed constitutes the best evidence for inferringmotivations, is
an ongoing and not entirely resolvable matter in any context.
The revival of virtue ethics applies to individuals, in-
cluding their roles in organizations, as we have discussed in
this paper. Although the matter of discerning or inferring
motivation for a collectivity is fraught with epistemo-
logical, legal, and other problems, it remains important to
consider how the cultures of organizations foster certain
kinds of behaviors. This is an important question, espe-
cially for the theoretical move from the individual to the
collective level, where attributions of motivation and of
virtue necessarily take on a different type of character. In
this regard, of course, owners, top managers, etc., have a
disproportionate influence on what becomes, de facto, the
moral character of an organization.
Acknowledgements This paper was part of a research project
funded by the New Zealand Marsden Fund, administered by the Royal
Society of New Zealand.
Ethical standards The authors declare that the conduct of this re-
search conforms to the policies and principles of human research
which is in accordance with the research ethical standards of the
University of Waikato.
Conflict of interest The authors declare no conflict of interest with
respect to this research. The authors have full control of all primary
data, which are available for review if requested.
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