‘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 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.”

Kinsu

When you think of naturally ethical industries, insurance is rarely one that pops to mind, particularly if you’ve had your claim rejected after missing a couple of words in the small print.

However, according to Chris Sharpe founder of insurance startup Kinsu in a recent interview with Forbes, “insurance can be beautiful thing”.

When we spoke to him, he had some interesting thoughts on ethical customer experience too. “The increasingly sophisticated and predictive nature of customer data science can be used to deliver exceptional customer experiences. But there is an increasing concern that it is being used to grind out greater margins and growth while forgetting the broader and more human desires and needs they should be serving.” he told us.

“In a world of Al-fuelled and data-enriched marketing, all too often, the minute you get tagged as a ‘customer’, you’re on the slippery slope towards an algorithmic and inhuman labyrinth of micro-data management – a sort of Dante’s Data Inferno.”

Wanting to start an app-based insurance money that put more emphasis on trust, Chris is attempting to take things back to insurance’s roots – where communities would pool together cash for mutual protection – and removing the grey areas that cause so much frustration for those forced to purchase insurance policies for their valuables. That and each policy purchased helps one rough sleeper off the streets through the charity Streetlink.

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

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