The case “Little Enough or Too Much” describes a company which produces a new industrial lubricant by the name of Chemical X. With approval from the government, the company dumps all excess chemical waste into a nearby river, commonly used by other producers, and in the production process chooses eliminate an addition step which would have led to reduced dumping of chemical waste. This is done in order to ensure cost efficiencies and competitiveness, however, a worker by the name of Bryan believes action should be taken in order to protect the environment and live up to the company’s promise of environmental consciousness, with the potential pollution and harm posed by this current process. Having already expressed his concerns to plant supervisor Bill Gates, it is clear that altering the current plan is not of any concern to the company (Heist, 1992). This case brings light to a very important moral issue: Does Bryan have any obligation or responsibility for taking action and informing others in order to ensure that this issue is resolved? Seeing as the company currently perceives no reason to make adjustments to the production process, with their investment currently thriving, this puts Bryan in a very difficult position.
However, there are possible solutions. Bryan could try and gather enough data from the engineers and chemists involved in the production process which would provide evidence to Bryan’s concerns and reproach Bill Gates with his findings. Alternatively, he could approach individuals outside of the organization, such as the government, to see that action is taken to solve the problem (“Little Enough or”, 1992). Based on the ethical theory of virtue ethics, which emphasizes decisions to be made based upon one’s own moral character, Bryan does indeed have an obligation to inform others of the necessity of this issue to be resolved and therefor, should take action. Virtue ethics teaches us that individuals should make decisions based on their own character and personal beliefs, “rather than relying on external laws and customs of [a] person’s culture” (Gowdy, 2013). It is made clear that Bryan is extremely uncomfortable with the decisions being made by the company and does not believe they are right.
With the government’s authorisation for additional waste discarding and the evident approval among supervisors and co-workers, benefiting from the increase in profits through the firm’s profit-sharing program, Bryan’s current business culture seems to contradict his inner beliefs. However, according to virtue ethics, these factors should not influence his final decision and therefor it would be logical for him to pursue this issue. Similarly, this theory places great emphasis on directing an individual’s attention away from popular belief and focusing on one’s own opinion and thoughts (Gowdy, 2013). Bryan should then not let his own judgement be clouded, merely because others do not view the situation from his perspective, and listen to his instincts which appear to be telling him that the company is making a huge mistake. Referring back to Greek thinkers Plato and Aristotle, it is said that individuals should ultimately make decisions which reinforce key virtues such as courage, justice and honesty, and that through consistent application, individuals are able to acquire good habits of character.
Ultimately, this will cause them to be able to better regulate their emotions and make morally correct decisions when faced with difficulties (Cline, n.d.). Based on this, in order to ensure that Bryan continues to make moral decisions throughout the rest of his life and is able to truly live virtuously, he should make an attempt to have the additional step implemented into the production process, thus reducing the amount of pollution. This is because such a decision would display the characteristic of courage on Bryan’s behalf, given that he is being faced with peers only interested in the current benefits being presented to them: money and short-term organizational success. These motives of greed would then fall under the category of bad habits, or “vices”, which Bryan should avoid in order to make moral decisions (Cline, n.d.). While Bryan is able to see the benefits of this product, as perceived by his peers, he cannot ignore the fact that excess pollution will most likely cause more problems for the company in the future. With the river being located so closely to the factory, if evidence does prove that excess chemical waste will have extremely harmful health effects, this not only puts the local environment and wildlife in danger, but also the lives of the factory’s workers if the landfill continues to grow.
Therefore, attempting to minimize these effects would satisfy the virtue of justice. Other ethical theories such as Utilitarianism may argue that since the current production process is causing an increase in profits, quite substantial when compared to the past few mediocre quarters, choosing to leave the current process as it is will benefit the greatest number of people (“Utilitarianism”, 2007). However, as Bryan identifies, this is merely a short term projection of benefits. The company has not taken into consideration the costs of implementing this additional step, as well as the potential harm from pollution in their analysis. Not to mention the fact that the company is technically lying to the public. While the company publicly states that all actions are taken in order to minimize harmful environmental effects, Chemical X proves this statement to be false. If some consumer’s purchased this product because they believed they were doing good for the environment, as apparently advertised, they would be deceived entirely.
Essentially, it is as if the consumers are being “greenwashed” by being fed false information in for hopes of organizational benefits, although no extensive marketing campaign has been executed (Furlow, 2010).While the company believes that slowing down production in order to implement this additional step will only draw attention to themselves and cause suspicion from environmental groups, would it not be worse if they were to discover this dishonesty down the road, only after the lie had snowballed over many years? At least if they were to correct this mistake now, they would be able to sustain this image of ecological concern by actively solving problems and admitting to their own errors in judgement. In order to satisfy the issues presented in this case, the ethical solution would be for Bryan to reproach Bill Gates and convince him that the additional phase in production must be implemented.
This would be achieved by contacting the engineers and chemists involved in the production of Chemical X in order to derive concrete evidence that the current plan will be harmful and support Bryan’s claim (“Little Enough or”, 1992). Considering the amount of safety precautions taken and training requirement on behalf of employees within chemical factories, there surely must be some sort of evidence to prove the damaging effects of their current process in order to draw attention to change. If it was then agreed upon to proceed with this plan, it would help to minimize the harmful effects on the environment and factory in general. In addition to Bryan being able to make a moral decision which will help him maintain a virtuous character in future difficulties, this would potentially have a positive effect on the character of other employees.
Previously, the company was being dishonest to the public regarding their ecological motives which over time could have reinforced the concept that dishonesty in the workplace is acceptable and feed into greed, both vices for which no employer should encourage. By living up to the company’s initial claim, this would potentially help reverse these effects. In conclusion, Bryan should follow his own beliefs and personal character and take action towards having the company implement an additional step in the production process of Chemical X. Thus, enabling him to make proper moral decisions in the future, sustain key virtues and minimize potential harmful effects on the environment and health of factory workers. Despite being a new employee and the idea that Bryan should avoid being a “troublemaker”, it cannot be simply denied that there is some form of injustice in this case and simply ignoring such injustice would stain one’s own moral character.
Cline, A. (n.d.). Virtue Ethics: Morality and Character. Retrieved November 28, 2014, from http://atheism.about.com/od/ethicalsystems/a/virtueethics.htm Furlow, N. (2010). Greenwashing in the New Millennium. The Journal of Applied Business and Economics, 10(6), 22-25. Retrieved November 28, 2014, from ABI/INFORM Global. Gowdy, L. (2013, October 15). Virtue Ethics. Retrieved November 28, 2014, from http://www.ethicsmorals.com/ethicsvirtue.html Heist, E. (1992, January 1). Little Enough or Too Much. Retrieved November 25, 2014, from https://learn.humber.ca/bbcswebdav/pid-1288113-dt-content-rid-6008416_1/courses/5773.201470/227_case1.pdf Little Enough or Too Much Teaching Notes. (1992). Retrieved November 28, 2014, from http://wpweb2.tepper.cmu.edu/ethics/AA/mgmt04-notes.pdf Utilitarianism. (2007). In Political philosophy A-Z. Retrieved from http://search.credoreference.com.rap.ocls.ca/content/entry/edinburghppaz/utilitarianism/0