What is Ethonomics?

The end of the modern financial system as we know it has cleared the way for an era of ethical economics, or "Ethonomics." We live in a world that's resource-constrained but ingenuity-rich. So an upstart generation of entrepreneurs--and innovators within the world's biggest companies--are founding businesses that are good for the world as well as the bottom line. They are practicing social change through urban revitalization, sustainable agriculture, green IT, alternative energy and online community-powered investing. Any business that claims to be truly sustainable and innovative should be increasingly efficient with energy and natural resources, transparent and accountable, and good on balance for people and other living things. Ethonomics is a hybrid of technology, design, and social responsibility, and at Fast Company we believe it is the future of business.

But we're not breathless cheerleaders for every daisy-splashed widget that comes down the pike. We have a skeptical eye out for greenwashing by large and small companies alike, and are impatient with lofty claims that stray too far from the marketplace or from Main Street. Our duty is to keep it honest; our promise to our audience is to keep our coverage clear-eyed and entertaining. In the reality-based world of ethonomics, good results are more important than good intentions.

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28 Comments

  • Susan Mazer

    Ethonomics...too close to economics...and all claims of merit in this area such be met with suspect as these are claimed regularly in media pushes for new business. I agree. Outcomes are the measure. At the same time, history has shown that unbridaled capitalism reinvents greed in ways too well masked. Like the wolf in little Red-Riding Hood. "What bigs promises you make!" said Little REd Riding Hoodl "Better to seduce you, my dear!" said the wolf. I am not sure anything has changed...but, yet, where problems arise, so do opportunities. The greater the challenge and calamity, the more profound the opportunity. After all, while the Grand Canyon occurred over millions of year, for those of you who have been to Arches Nat'l Park, the entrance where one can see the earth tipped sideways. Catalismic changes make for stunning viewing and trekking. And, they happen in short order. So it is with economic collapse. It looked evolutionary...but it turned out to be revolutionary. We should all beware of the big bad wolf of greed taking the opportunities in front of us all. Ethonomics.

  • Stuart Kortekaas

    I like the concept of Ethonomics. I've been doing a lot of reading lately regarding wealth and business. If there is a single theme that is consistent between all of the books I've read, it's that the fastest way to become successful is to not focus on making money, but on finding ways of improving the lives of other people.

    One positive result of the current global crisis is that it's making people question the way in which they live their lives. One example springs to mind: the GM and Segway PUMA two wheeled transportation concept. Only a few years ago a design like this simply wouldn't be taken seriously by more than a small audience. (Any maybe it won't. Time will tell) If the average individual in the world today had plenty of wealth & job security, then few people would be tempted to drive anything other than the cumbersome and inefficient off-road 4wds which seem to be everywhere these days. Except off-road.

    As a transportation designer I have to say I think the PUMA concept is a step in the right direction. But could I ever see myself owning one? Well no actually. Lack of storage space, limited range, lack of performance compared to the smallest (And cheapest) of cars, cost of replacing batteries (Not to mention the environmental impact of all those old batteries ending up in landfill)? Particularly I think battery technology is still a very long way away from where it needs to be. Take a real world example, the Nokia N95 phone I own. I bought it because it sounded great in theory - GPS, high quality camera, excellent quality screen. The James Bond gadget loving side of me loved the thought of all these features. In reality? After owning the phone for some time now I'm often frustrated with it. And the reason why? Hopeless, hopeless battery life - it simply isn't up to the task. (And I've bought several batteries now for it so I know it's not just a one-off issue) Use the GPS - a fully charged battery will be flat in barely more than an hour. I find I'm now not using a lot of its features simply because I'm so sick of hearing the little beeping noise it makes when the battery is low. This is a product with good intentions - without real world practicality.

  • Luis Gurri

    “The end of the modern financial system as we know it.” Interesting, so is Ethonomics to be the postmodern financial system? I love the idea of hybridity, too. Great concept. Of course, to do business with humanity in mind (JHU Carey slogan) is the future of business. Not profit driven, but a genuine concern for the client, for humanity, for all. This is a different kind of motivation, more closely aligned, as I see it, to a passion rather than a profit. This is a more profound approach to business, full of meaning and, well, ethics and a careful combination/construction of technology, design, and social responsibility. I look forward to the mainstreaming of this term, I know I am certainly going to start using it!

  • Carel Two-Eagle

    Hanh mitakuyapi/Hello my relatives. How refreshing that after maintaining for over 20 years that this is the only way to go that is viable, the rest of the business world has caught up. Now my question is, given that I & other ITI, being ITI (Indigenous Turtle Islander), are still definitely among of those who are "resource-constrained" in the money department but definitely "ingenuity rich", as I/we always have been, how do we get the money we need to get our businesses into our markets? What works for you of the majority culture definitely does not work for us; never has, isn't likely to start now. It's about 'walking your talk' & making those 'good results' referred to in the article, happen for us who are not part of the majority culture. Which will take a lot more creativity & flexibility than we've seen.

  • sadiq sikandar

    I believe Principles of Ethonomics will be more conspicuous in coming years. I always thought that the 21st century we talked of in the last decade will be governed by something similar to what’s being termed as ‘Ethonomics’ (hope this term catches up fast).

    The recent melt down is an eye opener for all of us to rethink and re design our universe The good thing happening is that organizations, governments and people alike have started tinkering over this concept and some are actually doing a lot of good work in this area.

    We definitely need smart hybrid of resources in all spheres of our lives. The one’s that provides us with urban revitalization, sustainable agriculture, green IT, alternative energy and online community-powered investing.

    It is a certain form of adaptation for all future leaders.

  • Melyana Klue

    "Ethonomics"-A hybrid of technology,design,and social responsibility. Add a spirit of innovation and ingenuity tempered by pathos,ethos,logos: What a refreshing concept for a new business model in these uncertain times.

  • Charney Hoffmann

    It's interesting that people seem to believe in a distinction between a business with altruistic motives versus a business "selfishly" seeking to make a profit. Modern-day altruism is just a clever disguise for rational self-interest. Now that companies like Exxon and Shell have made it extremely easy to feed, transport, and entertain billions of people, it's only obvious that we also want to breathe clean air, watch wildlife, and enjoy all the spare time that modern industry has provided. But the desire to keep our planet clean is no more altruistic than it is for Chevron to build a new oil field.

    Ethonomics is just a fancy term to describe making a profit in a world where people insist on living on a nice planet.

  • Ken Smith

    Any national economic policy must include an energy policy. Where our reliance on foreign oil and dirty fuels for electricity have clearly cost us more in the long-run, we need to turn to a new model of generating and using energy. We need a situation where energy generation occurs at the point of use and matches demand; where nodes of energy generation are comparable to node on the internet with seamless, rapid, open data communications connecting these nodes enables greater efficiency, control, and planning. And those who claim a need for a disproportionate amount of energy in any form can tap into a national reserve, but at a price that covers the total cost of generating, transmitting, and dealing with the consequences of that excess demand. We need to become a nation of Energy Locovores where each house, business, car, school, church, city hall, etc. generates what power it needs on-site, shares some back into the grid to benefit society, and fundamentally change the way all forms of energy are bought and sold. We need to just www.buildbabybuild.com

  • Parador Valle Los Ulmos

    Check Dalai Lama's book Ethic for the new millenium...and ken wilber's Theory of everything....is like a new era is coming after the "capitalim's perestroika" (quoting Alfredo Salas)

  • Michael E. Douroux

    New Rules & Regulations

    Ultimately, ethical systems (micro or macro) are built, maintained and sustained by ethical individuals. I don't see how we can get around this simple fact of life.

    At the same time, new rules and regulations are clearly necessary to provide better safeguards that more accurately reflect current road and weather conditions.

    In any event, it will always remain the responsibility of each and every individual to drive their vehicle under conditions and in a manner that maintains road safety for themselves and others. History has shown that when there is a lack of balance between these two factors, you cycle into phases where you get these massive pileups such as we now find ourselves in.

    As an example, through Core Asset Conservation, the individual takes back control and ownership of their future. By taking the initiative to reduce the levels of personal exposure to unnecessary risks, the individual is in a much stronger position to keep themselves and their families in step with the normal life cycles, regardless of what a constantly changing environment may put before them.

    The more that follow this lead, the more stable the system.

  • Michael E. Douroux

    Noah,

    Great post and clearly the way forward!

    Please take a look at the blog I just started entitled "Financial Conservation - The Necessity of Core Asset Conservation in The Changing Financial Environment": http://coreassetconservation.b...

    As with conservation of natural resources, Financial Conservation is based on the primary building blocks of personal responsibility and the integrity of individual common sense.

    Best regards,

    Michael E. Douroux
    Financial Conservationist
    Hollywood, FL
    douroux@financialconservation.com

  • Yeves Perez

    What do you think about certifying business and investment professionals who are leading the fight against climate change? I created a new certification called the ClimateChanger™ designation. ClimateChangersTM are described as “business people who have demonstrated an eagerness to reduce carbon emissions in their industry of practice, and the knowledge and creativity to achieve that goal.”

    Let me know your thought?

    Read the article on FastCompany Here.

    http://www.fastcompany.com/blo...

  • NoahRobischon

    These comments are all excellent. I'd like to move this conversation into the next phase with a question: Which companies best exemplify Ethonomics? I'm sure a few of the ones listed in the Fast Company 50 (http://www.fastcompany.com/fas... would make the list. I'll start with #2 - Google.

  • Dawna Jones

    The economic crisis has created the perfect portal for business to evolve. The question is who is paying attention. I did an interview with Jay Bragdon author of Profit for Life, who has done forty years of research on companies who are organized around their core value of respect for Life. Part 3: Adapt or Die is posted now. http://www.management-issues.c... The research makes the business sense clear. The kicking and screaming part seems to center on fear of loosing control. The ironic part is that since you attract what you most fear... it is much easier to use these times to bring the parts of the business culture that are not aligned with valuing life into a more congruent state than to believe you are somehow exempt from the laws of nature. By seeing how biological principles inform managing business cultures, it is much easier to make the radical shift required. The market response: from Jay's research with the 4% of companies world-wide who get this... is intuitively positive. These are exciting times with opportunity in the form of threats everywhere. Now we will see which companies recognize and seize these times as a portal for innovation and accessing deeper more intuitive knowledge.
    --
    Dawna Jones: Activating Intuitive Innovation

  • Ivars Ulinskis

    Unless somebody pulls the big red emergency brake and turns the pure good will of eco-intentions into another business within frames of law and finances, which nowadays present a uniformed entity.

  • Jean-Luc Marcoux

    Innovation but especially eco-innovation is the key to get out of this economic mess. This is a Triple E crisis: Economic, Environmental and Energy. Eco-innovations would tackle all aspects of this crisis with clean affordable, renewable energy projects and R3-Reduce, Reuse, Recycle behavioral changes. The key to ending this recession is green and it is not green as in bailout money green. It is as green as sustainable development projects can be. In a recession the economy and the production infrastructure become idle. As John Kenneth Galbraith wrote in The Affluent Society in 1958!: "...workers do not miss the goods that are not produced during a recession but the jobs that are no longer there...". We have a large pool of idle smart and educated workers(a lot of them MBA-educated from Wall Street!) now unemployed and looking for work. There is plenty of work for the eco-innovator who want to start a green business. The stimulus package should have a pool of capital for green startups. Do good, make money and help the environment.

  • Melissa Tingley

    When I was in grad school I once told a professor I didn't think doing business and doing the right thing could co-exist. Such was my experience up until that point. After Enron, there was a rush to "re-teach" ethics courses in B school. Will that lesson ever stick?

  • John Agno

    Regarding the common good, when are some good results, good enough?

    If you cannot predict the future, it is sensible to continue adding to your surplus of offspring, wealth, and material goods even far beyond your needs, as an insurance policy against unexpected catastrophes such as severe droughts or floods, which will eliminate anyone without a surplus large enough to last until they end.

    Even nonmaterial surpluses of kindness and good deeds can be drawn upon when one later needs help. If the unthinkable never happens, your efforts will not have been in vain because they always add to your chances of survival and reproductive success in the near future or generations from now. And as long as you maximized your potential, it really doesn't matter if you enjoyed the process. Like Noah, who sacrificed and toiled to build and stock his ark, one prepares for the possible flood in order to survive it.

    And yet with individual efforts to survive continuously undermining the common good, then what hope is there for peace? Our behavior fluctuates between sensible and difficult to control, casting doubt on the possibility for peace. At the same time, research using behavioral testing, psychophysiology, and even brain imaging shows that empathy and the impetus to help are greatly increased when one feels similar or familiar to another.

    Source: Averting the Tragedy of the Commons by Stephanie D. Preston, University of Michigan assistant professor of psychology, in SHIFT, December 2006

  • Ivars Ulinskis

    Recently stumbled upon Fast Company and I like what it is. Nice to discover you are not alone in your ideas and see there are others who share the same points of view which are not typical.

    I believe the current world system is reaching for it`s designated peak which is actually enslavement of second world nations by means of giant debts which are scaled in amounts of legal tender without any substantial fundamentals. The point of doing so is to extract any natural raw resources available. Later on the intelligence will be forced to leave the country thus providing larger countries with cheap labor. And so on.

    I like the idea of ethonomics. The main milestone is the scarcity of common sense which is currently blinded by the spotlight of media, planned education and the system in overall. The world is being lead by un-normal people because the normal people would not make such system for themselves. Being an abnormality within the system corrupts the system in favor of yourself. System is not designed to deal with abnormalities.

    Anyway this is an issue for discussion worth more than a comment. What world needs now is a trigger for people to change their way of thinking otherwise the current system will succeed and not in favor of world which is indeed because there is no individual dictator who serves the people. Dictatorship make people serve. As long as the world will be lead by individuals there will be no freedom. Only acting together can cause change and make a difference.

    Call it what you like to call it ethonomics or resource based ecnonomy but that is something we must encourage ourselves for and believe in order to advance away from the current which takes us obviously the wrong direction.

  • Colin Browning

    In todays economic environment principals are in tension with practically as much as they ever have been. If you really care about Ethonomics, give my friend John a call at USD's School of Buisness's Master of Science in Global Leadership. He will square you away. If you want a practical taste of what it is all about, spend a week with a team member from Ecology Action in Santa Cruz California, and you will experience life in the non-profit fast lane.

    http://www.sandiego.edu/busine...

    Regards,
    Colin