January 27, 2003

Business and Sustainability
Ethical Competence

The meeting was attended by 18 members and 19 guests.

Business of the Institute

Leaders reported that progress is continuing on all ongoing projects in five theme areas. Jim Haliburton announced that the next meeting of the Institute on February 24, 2003 will feature the Stewardship and Environment theme on the topic of “Saving Energy in Your Home” (see attached flyer).


Gerri Schwartz introduced the topic referring to the work on creativity and leadership that she and Desmond Berghofer have been working on since 1988. With the founding of the Institute in 1998, the emphasis moved to ethical leadership. Tonight's presentation on Ethical Competence represents the beginning of a new thrust on the teaching of ethics as a competence to be learned, thereby raising the level of ethical behaviour across society. It also introduces the rigour of scientific measurement to the topic of ethics. We see this as the beginning of a decade long program of work providing the foundation for everything else the Institute does.


Desmond Berghofer introduced the topic by referring to his participation on January 23-25, 2003 in the State of the Fraser Basin Conference, which featured a report entitled “A Snapshot on Sustainability.” This is a ground breaking report in which the Fraser Basin Council attempts to describe the environmental health of the Fraser River Basin and the level of well-being of the human communities it supports. It is a microcosm of the challenge facing human communities in every part of the world as they struggle to bring human activity into balance with the physical environment.

Desmond pointed out that this is essentially an ethical challenge for 21st century humanity seeking to find ways of living differently with each other and with nature, replacing an ethic of consumption, which during the industrial era has caused great devastation to the Earth, with an ethic of conservation in which we seek to sustain human economies without further destruction of the natural capital on which all life depends.

In his presentation Desmond explained that at the start of the 21st century we are beginning to understand for the first time that we live in an interdependent world in which no part can prosper without being concerned with the well-being of other parts. We are now concerned about sustainability because we can see that the way we live on the planet today is not sustainable very far into the future, especially when those now living marginal existences strive to reach the living standards of the developed world. Humanity is being challenged on how to live ethically in an interdependent world.

To address this challenge we are initiating through our work at the Institute for Ethical Leadership the concept of ethical competence. This implies that the knowledge and skills we need are teachable and learnable, but they have to be seen in an overall framework. This is what we call the Ethical Competence Framework. It organizes beliefs, knowledge and action into three dimensions of competence: Personal Competence, Social Competence and Global Competence.

Desmond explained how the Ethical Competence Framework can be used to construct a scale of 30 items called the Ethical Competence Scale. This provides a tool or instrument that can be used by individuals and organizations to assess their level of ethical competence in their personal behaviour, in their relationships with others, and in their relationships with the natural world. Scores on this scale can be expressed as a quotient called the Ethical Quotient (EthQ), similar to the Intelligence Quotient (IQ).

However, the value of the scale is not so much in measuring the EthQ, but rather in providing a way to look at ethical behaviour quantitatively, and to provide the basis for dialogue about what to do to improve ethical behaviour. By including measures of global competence, in addition to personal and social competence, we have a way of focusing attention on what people need to learn in order to create sustainable communities. It also addresses the skills and beliefs needed to live in equity and peace, both of which are fundamentally linked to sustainability.


Participants we re given the experience of discussing 12 items on the Ethical Competence Scale. This generated discussion about the quality of decisions and ethical behaviour in activities ranging from organic food production and distribution to school bullying, and from collaboration in solving the softwood lumber dispute to the issue of providing a smoking room at public expense for a Supreme Court Justice.

Desmond shared with participants a set of criteria for deciding how to assign a score on any item. These criteria require comprehensive consideration from multiple points of view.

In a second discussion participants were asked how the Ethical Competence Framework can be used to provide teaching and learning in the wider community and how it can be introduced to organizations.

There was general consensus that the timing is good to be initiating this kind of thinking to supplement current interest in the concept of the triple bottom line (profits, people, environment) with ethics. It was thought that this should be of interest at the Board level of businesses and organizations entrusted with public goods, such as parks and land reserves. Two kinds of organizations were thought to be good candidates: those who have already shown sensitivity to corporate social responsibility and those who are vulnerable because they have been caught up in ethical problems.

It was also suggested that the Institute might consider training consultants, facilitators and coaches who could then introduce the ethical competence approach in their work with clients. The idea of the Institute providing an “Ethical Seal of Approval” to organizations and individuals was also suggested.

It was proposed that the Institute might “tailgate” the Ethical Competence Framework with the initiative to introduce a values-based curriculum into the School District of New


Gerri Schwartz closed the meeting by inviting those who had come as guests to consider returning first as Friends of the Institute, then as members to lend their support to spreading the work of the Institute.

Next Meeting

February 24, 2003: 5.30 p.m. to 8.30 p.m., Vancouver Public Library
Theme: Stewardship and the Environment
Topic: Saving Energy in Your Home