‘Ethical’ is one of those terms that is defined and interpreted in so many colours and flavours that it’s difficult to pin down exactly what this means when used in the context of business practice. It could mean emphasising the ethical treatment of your staff, prioritising diversity in the workplace, ensuring the services and products the business uses are from ethical sources. The list goes on.

We’ve invested our expertise into several businesses that do good in the world, by encouraging less food waste like OLIO and encouraging people to make more ethical shopping decisions, like Giki.

But it’s sometimes the less likely businesses and industries, the ones that surprise us a little, that give the impression that founders and entrepreneur’s attitudes on ethics are shifting fast. When we see businesses, and particularly startups, thrive whilst quietly changing the status quo in ways you might not expect, our ears tend to prick up. So here are some of our favourite ways startups are considering ethics that have the potential to influence the future of business and its impact on the world to come.

Pact Coffee

Although most of us use coffee to stay awake and alert, we can be pretty dense when it comes to its social and environmental impact.

Even with large coffee brands slowly starting to switch to fairtrade, or making statements about their commitment to ethical and environmental action, for their size, impact is small.

As a relatively new disruptive force on the coffee market, Pact Coffee has made ethics a key part of its business plan. Using Direct Trade, they’re able to work directly with farmers, offering them a fair price (at least 25% more than the fair trade price) which can be used to improve production methods and quality – making coffee plant growth more sustainable in the process.

They’re not all words and no proof though, producing a yearly social impact report that anyone can view on their website.

Element AI

When it comes to artificial intelligence (AI), the arguments are vast and often inconclusive. We’re in a state with this form of technology where we need to tread incredibly carefully – for we have no way of knowing the impact of our actions on society and the environment in years to come.

One way in which AI’s ethical compass could be skewed is explored by Fortune and focuses on how corporate giants have effectively vacuumed up prosperous looking AI startups and academics over the past few years, stealing away resources for commercial gain and concentrating power in what could be a very dangerous way.

Element AI is going against the grain, by paying universities for some of their talent whilst allowing them to remain in their research roles – meanwhile avoiding the pull of big guns like Google and Facebook.

Through collaboration and community, they’re attempting to ‘open source’ AI, making it easier for consensus to be formed on ethics and social responsibility.

It’s a tough one to crack, but they’re making waves. As Yam, Element AI’s Marketing and Comms Director told Tech Vibes: “Our core values are to be a non-predatory player… to actually open everything up and give access to it all.”


Advertising is everywhere. If it’s not sneaking up on us in our Instagram feeds, it’s staring us in the face whilst we wait at bus stops or is nestled into the middle of our favourite YouTube show.

Marketers are clever and creative people, they know how to tickle our fancy or soften our hearts (and our wallets). So what if that could be used for good?

Glimpse was set up in 2016 by a group of friends. All talented marketing and advertising professionals and creatives, they wanted to do things a bit differently and set out with their first campaign C.A.T.S. – a successful Kickstarter campaign that enabled them to replace 68 Tube adverts… with pictures of cats!


They’ve since grown Glimpse into a collective of over 1600 professionals, working with charities and progressive organisations, building campaigns such as Choose Love – the world’s first store that allows people to purchase real products for refugees and Rosine’s – a secret hot chocolate salon designed for the launch of Fairtrade Fortnight.

Moving Mountains

With global meat consumption negatively impacting the environment more than pollution from all the world’s transport put together, plenty of startups are looking at the ways in which we can lower our impact whilst still tucking into our favourite juicy burger.

Moving Mountains is the first UK startup to create an ethical meat free burger that truly replicates the real thing. ‘Blood’ and all. And with competitors Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat in the USA raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars of investment between them, this is one ethical startup solution that’s pricking up the ears of investors around the globe.

Good Connection

After Facebook’s well known social faux pas with Cambridge Analytica, people are more savvy when it comes to their personal data and how it’s used to advertise to them. How they, and their life, are a form of profit – a payment for using the social network so to speak.

Good Connection however, is a startup that’s attempting to start a new social networking site that’s more transparent and ethical, even donating a proportion of advertising profits to charity.

Tapping into the need for people to attain maximum privacy, there are also options for people to create multiple profiles for friends, family and professional life. It’s certainly not going to take over from Facebook and Twitter just yet, but its use is demonstrating changing attitudes from the public, and a desire for a more ethical social networking experience.

Building business from the ground up

The great thing about all these businesses is that they’re all startups and they’re all in industries that aren’t necessarily the ones that’d come to mind when you’re thinking of business ethics. But they’re part of a movement that’s changing the way we think about building businesses, by incorporating ethics from the very start.

We work with startups to really get to the heart of their business and what their values are. Our years of expertise building businesses from the ground up helps us to shape this. With ethics becoming one of businesses and societies biggest considerations, early-stage startups looking for investment are best placed to ensure their businesses are set for the future. And it’s such an exciting place to be.

Image credit: Haceme un 14

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in October 2018 and has since been updated for optimum accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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