The co-founder of Allbirds and the director of philosophy at Patagonia participated in a panel on ethics and sustainable business practices hosted by the Wharton Dean's Undergraduate Advisory Board.
The Oct. 19 event, titled "Ethics in Sustainability," is the second of six events in the “Ethics at Wharton: Exploring the Intersection of Ethics Across Industries” speaker series. Joey Zwillinger of Allbirds and Vincent Stanley of Patagonia were joined by Penn professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics Eric Orts to offer their perspectives on business and environmental responsibility to an audience of over 90 Penn students and faculty members.
Zwillinger, whose company Allbirds focuses on sustainably produced shoes, discussed his own experience in reconciling stakeholder interests and environmental responsibility. He said the two aren’t necessarily contradictory, as Allbirds raised over 100 million dollars in funding and remained profitable for most of its existence, all while cutting out environmentally-harmful materials like plastic and cotton from their shoes.
Stanley mostly agreed with the idea that environmental stewardship can be integrated into business, but raised concerns about "green-washing" or deceitful advertising that uses eco-friendly language without full transparency to appeal to customers.
At Patagonia, Stanley strives to ensure that environmental responsibility is an important part of the company's philosophy. Currently, 68% of their products are made using recyclable materials and the company aims to be carbon-neutral by 2025.
After the large group discussion concluded, some participants were randomly selected to partake in smaller discussions with the panelists.
“Businesses today are facing an increasingly complex array of ethical challenges, and navigating them is essential to success," event organizer and Wharton sophomore Hunter Korn said. "We want students to have a better understanding of social responsibility, which includes sustainability."
She added that last year, the Business Roundtable, which is an association of CEOs of America's leading companies, released a statement that the purpose of a corporation should be to benefit all stakeholders.
"In any industry, ethical thinking and decision-making are crucial, so ethics allows students to think critically about practical business decisions and the consequences of those decisions, making them better business leaders,” Korn said.
The remaining four sessions of the Ethics at Wharton speaker series will run until Nov. 19 and focus on ethics in the election, medicine, and leadership.