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Food for thought: The social-ecological business ethics model in action

Daniel Brady ( is Assistant Vice President in the Global Ethics Office at U.S. Bank in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.

I’ve written previously about the social-ecological model as a construct for understanding how businesses can influence employees’ ethical behavior.[1] This approach starts with the premise that our behaviors are influenced when we receive the same or similar information from different sources, in various ways, at different times. This essentially creates an environment—an ecosystem—that delivers consistent messaging and wherein changes in behavior become all but guaranteed. Not long ago, I observed this model at work in an unlikely place: an elementary school environmental learning center cafeteria. The benefits and the downside of this model were on full display.

Stepping from the theoretical to the practical happens very quickly, especially when dealing with children. I chaperoned a three-day trip to an environmental learning center with a couple hundred fourth and fifth graders. It was a place steeped in experiential learning—some by design and some by happenstance—through hands-on experience, measurement and analysis, stimulation, and social interactions. I thought to myself, “There is bound to be an ethics lesson here somewhere.”

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