Business Ethics: Giving to Charity vs Generating ROI. Can you do both?

Business Ethics_ Giving to charity vs generating ROI
Hazel Needham

Hazel Needham

Can you be an ethical business and also make a generous return on investment? The business ethics debate is debunked as we discuss what it really takes to be able to manage a business ethically while also making a considerable amount of profit.



“Money makes the world go round.” And it’s true – investing in environmentally-aware practices, ethical operations and long-term sustainability schemes is crucial for the protection of the planet. But it is also true that relentless capitalism, excessive consumption and unsustainable business ethics are precisely what could bring civilization as we know it to a halt. Money makes the world go round – and it is also dangerously close to destroying it altogether.


So how can businesses combine sustainable business ethics with profitable structures to make sure their money keeps the world going round?

business ethics giving to charity
photo credit: montira areepongthum / Shutterstock

Charities and Non-Profits

Championing the dream business ethics are, of course, charities and non-profits. The likes of WWF, Woodland Trust and Earthjustice are all charities where both the organisation and the donor contribute to the planet without getting anything in return – other than the knowledge that everybody involved is doing good. There is no product or service (though we can’t knock a really good cake sale) – just a warm fuzzy feeling that you’re doing your bit (or eating a really good cake).


The idea is that, behind the scenes, these charities are getting on with saving the planet. But relying on donations and cake sales isn’t a particularly reliable way to save the planet, and not all businesses can afford to give to charity with no return of their investment. 


So, a more specific synonym of the question: how can businesses combine sustainable business ethics with profitable structures – is how can businesses ‘give to charity’ and see a return on our investment?

ethical business carbon offsetting schemes
photo credit: global aerospace

Carbon Schemes

In 2007, Verra was set up by environmental and business leaders who saw the need for greater quality assurance in voluntary carbon markets. Non-profits like Verra introduced more measurable ways of conducting climate action, such as carbon offsetting schemes, which allow consumers and companies to strive for a net-zero carbon footprint. 

This improved the traceability of funds for businesses – rather than donating without awareness, businesses were better informed exactly where their investments were going. The reality, however, remained problematic. Carbon credit organisations found it difficult to deploy their investments – as much as 80% of funding never reaches the charities with some carbon credit schemes – and businesses still found it difficult to have a personable and tangible connection with their sustainability commitment. No real return of investment meant that these sorts of carbon schemes remained commercially un-savvy.

Business ethics sorted, return of investment, still an issue. We want the world to turn, and to create a turnover.

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How to Give to Charity and Generate a ROI
photo credit: visual-stories-micheile / Unsplash

How to Give to Charity and Generate a ROI

Unfortunately, there isn’t a Saving the World qualification you can obtain (ask the Avengers). But there are Partnerships and conversations schemes like ours that you can commit to, combining your business ethics with a return on investment.

STEP 1: Partnerships

There can be both advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing work, but when it comes to protecting the planet, partnering with external, non-profit organisations or charitable businesses is absolutely the way forward. Smaller businesses may not be able to fund complex projects or additional staff, and larger businesses may also struggle to obtain the specialist knowledge. Plus, regardless of size, the marketing opportunities and positive associations when partnering your business with a pre-established organisation is invaluable to your rep.


STEP 2: Implement a reliable conservation scheme

Do your research. 

  • Think about the deployment of funds – does the conversation scheme regularly give directly to charities? One Tribe pays the Rainforest Alliance and indigenous communities on a monthly basis in a structured and consistent system. 
  • Is the scheme transparent? Partners of One Tribe have their own tree counter at the bottom of their website, so customers can see, as they purchase from our partners, how their decisions are directly protecting the planet. 
  • Do they know what they’re doing? One Tribe stores 39,000 kilos of carbon for every dollar given, because we protect existing trees and protect local ecosystems, beating even the treeplanters.
  • Can they prove it? Look at what conversation schemes have already done. Check out our econometrics story to see the outcomes of


STEP 3: Build your brand as sustainable

The beauty of conversation schemes is their multitude, so you can get as creative (or not) as you desire. If you’re an independent florist, you might want to go for a tree planting scheme, and base your branding around nature and botanical glory. Or perhaps you’re based at a seaside, so you’ll opt for an ocean conservation scheme, where every bouquet purchased improves the beauty of both the interior and the view outside of the window. 


For consumers and for businesses – although giving to charity is a valuable and rewarding way of giving back to the planet, is it not a sustainable method of doing so. On the other hand, a narrow-minded focus on profit and good ROI is important, but without a passionate consumer base, similarly unsustainable. Resonating with a sustainable target audience by demonstrating comprehensive, valuable business ethics and products or services will encourage all sectors of the market to invest, generating a profitable ROI.

How do we know it works? Well, we’ve seen it. Businesses partner with One Tribe to implement our carbon-reducing tree protection scheme, which is a conservation solution unrivalled in both simplicity and success.

Good business ethics make the world go round.

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