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It has been a moving experience to talk to the participants

in our larger study of the New Zealand wine industry, who

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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’’

(Solomon 2004).

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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