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Outi Uusitalo: Could virtues be the foundation of sustainability?

Outi Uusitalo | 28.04.2017

Today, sustainability is a routine element of the operations of many companies. What promises then are made to stakeholders by individuals and companies who present themselves as responsible? Sustainability can mean many different things: renewable energy, taking care of employees, recycling, local activities, ensuring good quality. Could it be possible to base sustainability on virtues so that it would be more than just compliance with technical standards? Virtues are character traits, which are ethically and morally valuable. How would the four cardinal virtues of ancient Greece – prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice – fit in the development of sustainablity?

The virtue of prudence means reflection, consideration and rationality. We talk about common sense – something that stems from life experiences and can be identified by listening to and talking with different kinds of people. Prudence (wisdom) is renewable; it is practical information arising from the daily activities of customers; it is all around us and should not be left unharnessed. The virtue of justice means sincerity, impartiality and fairness. It creates a foundation for mutual trust between people and organisations. Fortitude means steadfastness, the courage to take risks and persevere in pursuit of one’s goals. It reinforces sustainability and promotes the adoption of new, sustainable practices, and also strengthens one’s faith in the desired outcome and helps tolerate setbacks in the event of delayed results. Temperance refers to one’s ability to be moderate and humble, set limits and, if needed, refuse. It can guide us to conserve natural resources, avoid over-eating and splurging, and help us to consume in moderation and keep household finances balanced.

Responsible operations, innovations, products or services based on these virtues will stand out from the competition and create value for customers. Customers deserve to be treated with respect. That is why using the virtues as our guideline could be a point of honour for all of us. At the same time, it would enable us to build a better world for everyone.

Outi Uusitalo
University of Jyväskylä

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