BMO5501 Business Ethics and Sustainability

BMO5501 Business Ethics and Sustainability

Unit description

This unit critically reviews the socio-cultural environment in which business operates. Ethical frameworks for decision-making will be critiqued and students will construct the debates surrounding contemporary corporate responsibility and sustainable development as they impact on organisations in their local and global contexts. Emphasis will be on how new pressures on businesses arise, and how effective the various models that structure organisational responses are to these dynamic and emergent challenges.

Learning Outcomes

At the completion of this unit, students should be able to:

  1. Discriminate between key western philosophical approaches to ethics
  2. Discriminate between ethics, legal requirements, and religious doctrine as they impact on contemporary business and be able to critically comment upon the role of culture in ethical decision making.
  3. Advocate a position – and establish ways of advancing that position – on the ethical issues associated with the western capitalist business system through analysis, critique and the presentation of corroborating evidence.
  4. Exemplify professional judgement: in assessing alternative perspectives of corporate responsibility in the context of contemporary business issues; and in the management and measurement of sustainable performance.
  5. Evaluate the sustainability agenda and justify assessment of the implications for business.
  6. Evaluate and debate the role of social movements and institutional changes to business operations.
  7. Clearly communicate conclusions to inter-disciplinary audiences demonstrating a high level of personal autonomy and accountability.

Learning and teaching strategies

Respect . Passion . Knowledge

The unit of study involves a mix of face-to-face seminars plus online learning activities, peer discussion and review, and self-reflection. Opportunities will be made available to tailor the content to industry/professional needs and interests. Learners are responsible for managing their own time in completing prescribed reading, undertaking research and completing assessment tasks. Students are expected to participate in practical problem solving sessions, usually through teamwork.

The more information that is articulated and interrogated in any area of study, the stronger the learnings and potential benefit for the individual. This subject’s teaching approach is premised on active learning through your participation in a ‘contest of ideas’ about ethics and sustainability. So, participate and take every opportunity to maximise your learning. In addition to our focus on gaining insights, we are also about advancing professional standards. This is an on-campus course in a workplace, and I am sure we would all like to apply professional standards in maximizing our learning opportunities; things like: waiting by the entrance for further instructions if unavoidably arriving late minimise disruptions to communication and learnings by others; and pre-informing our lecturer if we must depart early – because strolling in and out at random does not ‘cut it’ in any serious work environment. So in order to meet the learning outcomes and professional standards expected and desired, one ought:

  • Arrive on time and attend a clear majority (80%) of classes
  • Inform the lecturer in advance if we cannot make a class, or will arrive late, or need to depart early
  • Read the relevant readings and cases before each lecture/tutorial
  • Participate fully in class and in other discussion forums
  • Meet the designated dates for assignment submission; and
  • Correspond only with your official VU email address so we can verify who it is we are dealing with.

Graduate capabilities

In addition to discipline knowledge, skills and their application, this unit contributes to students developing the capabilities needed to be:

  1. Adaptable and capable 21st century citizens who can communicate effectively, work collaboratively, think critically and solve complex problems. Underpinning concept: Identifying, anticipating and solving problems ranging from simple to important, complex and unpredictable.
  2. Confident, creative lifelong learners who can use their understanding of themselves and others to achieve their goals in work and learning. Underpinning concept: Decision making.
  3. Responsible and ethical citizens who use their inter-cultural understanding to contribute to their local and global communities. Underpinning concept: Understanding the intricacies of balancing individual and public good.

Assessment 1: short case presentation (15%)

General Instructions

This is a group assignment. The optimal size is 3 or 4 members – any more or less requires permission from your lecturer.


Critically analyse a short case assigned to your group in the field of sustainability and/or business ethics.


 Each week selected students (typically 3 or 4) will co-operatively lead and facilitate discussions related to the short case their lecturer allocates them. At the end of the discussion session, the facilitators will give a summary of the insights from the ideas or points covered in the discussion.

The major challenge associated with this assessment involves being a facilitator and leading seminar discussion. All students should search for techniques that demonstrate how to act as a facilitator so as to promote group interaction, dynamics and discussion. There are many techniques that can be used to assist you in performing this role – Google for hints.

In facilitating the short case, this must be done via a role-play. Yes, we are all actors on the stage of life. The context could be a board meeting, chatting at a bar, a fairy-tale, a press conference, a 60-minutes style interview, a Skype conference etc. You can play some or all of the characters or experts in the case – or make up extra cast members (a customer, supplier, reporter, government official etc.) A bunch of people sitting down (some with backs turned to class) mumbling away will not elicit a pass grade; if someone in your case is angry – sound angry! Engage the class – and this requires you to get their input by voluntary or more direct means: distributing roles (e.g. as an expert analyst, distribute numbers then pull some out of a box, offer presents; get the audience on their feet and move to different places according to alternate opinions, or just pointing out members etc.).

Online case presentation tips: if you wish you could to pre-record your case study presentation/role-play and use it in video format as part of your audience engagement, this is possible. Video should not take up the whole presentation time allocated.

An ethical issue: you would no doubt hope others show up to class and actively participate when you present – will you show up & contribute for others when its their turn?


  • presentation and discussion 25 minutes

Assessment 2: article on a special topic

General Instructions

  • Assessment 2 is to be done as an individual assignment
  • Due for electronic submission as a PDF file into the Assessment 2 Dropbox in Collaborate at the date specified in the teaching schedule
  • Do NOT include an assignment cover sheet – by submitting to collaborate you are attesting that the article is your original work


To compile an article on a special topic that reports on, and critically analyses, the objectives, operations and performance outcomes of either:

  1. a social enterprise in the country in which your course is conducted; or
  2. a sustainable tourism/hospitality business in the country in which your course is conducted; or
  3. a B-Corporation in the country in which your course is conducted; or
  4. a topic – as advanced or approved by your local lecturer – that has relevance to matters of ethics or sustainability and can inform your lived life – things like Palm oil; ‘clean coal energy’, application of the ‘circular economy’, we technologies or practices that promote sustainability etc.


A major international business magazine – HBR (Herbert Management Review) – has contracted you to write a ‘profile’ article on either a social enterprise OR a sustainable tourism business OR a special topic. They believe there are some really interesting organisations or topics that would be of interest to local and overseas readers.

Alternative 1 – note on social enterprises (for further details see Topic 9): Social enterprises are businesses established by entrepreneurs with an emphasis on human values rather than just profit. They are not charities or welfare agencies, but seek to achieve social change by having an economically viable business model that services societal needs while drawing support from the community. Some Australian examples (there are many also in Malaysia and other countries): the MADCAP Café that employees young people with mental health issues to make the coffee in stands at Masters Hardware stores; Fifty-six threads café run by AMES – which trains young refugees and migrants in hospitality skills; Streateats – trains & employs homeless youth; Who gives a crap – recycled toilet paper; Dress for success – clothes for women in need of support in getting a job; Scarf hospitality that trains refugees; and Goodcycles – trains and employs disengaged youth in bicycle repairs

Alternative 2 – note on sustainable tourism/hospitality businesses (for further details see Topic 8): Sustainable tourism takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing and balancing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities. Things like eco-hotels, nature tours, or hotels/hotel chains that have strong sustainability credentials, restaurants that have sustainable sourcing or waste minimisation practices, etc.

Alternative 3 – note on B-Corporations (for further details see Topic 8): B-Corporations are a relatively new form of business that require certification and have objectives centred around balancing the triple bottom line – economic, social & environmental responsibility.

Alternative 4 – note on special topics: in some locations in various semesters your local lecturer may provide you with, or approve , an alternative area of study to social enterprises or sustainable tourism (you can find some ideas at or checking out the unit resources).


Prepare an article for the business magazine that reports on, and critically analyses, the objectives, operations and outcomes of a social enterprise or sustainable tourism business or special topic – and include performance data and photos where possible. The magazine (it could be a fashion mag; a travel mag; a hospitality mag; a sustainability mag; a professional mag {like HBR, Fortune, Forbes etc.}; or some other mag)  is expecting: great content in a feature which is engaging, and exhibits a clear and crisp writing style. Article quality not quantity is the key.

Word limit: 1,500 words plus illustrations.

Assessment 3: reflective journal

General Instructions

  • For each of 9 sessions, you are reflecting on a short case and a reading – see a reflection example in ‘assessment examples’ folder in Collaborate
  • Each of the nine ‘one-pagers’ is to be submitted via the relevant dropbox in Collaborate before the start of the relevant session; late submissions are not accepted
  • Each ‘one-pager’ should have ONLY the session number as a heading (session 2, session 3, session 4 etc.); no assignment cover sheet is required
  • ‘One pager’ means literally one side of one page, max 300 words (in a font no less that 11 for legibility – not handwritten);
  • Three submissions will be selected at random for marking (3 X 5 = 15 marks) – if you have not submitted a reflective journal for a session, and that session is one of those randomly selected for marking by the examiner, you will receive 0/5 marks for that session.
  • Assignment cover sheet NOT required


The objective of this assignment is for you to reflect on your own thoughts and application in relation to material designated for seminar discussion in each session. Reflections are NOT simply a summary of a reading’s content – but are about your reaction to that content; what are the main insights, agree disagree? Relevance to your in workplace or lived life?

Want an additional incentive?  1. The tasks on which the ‘one-pagers’ are based provide key concepts & examples that can drive and shape your exam answers and inform your professional practice. Teaching staff can see objective evidence of a common correlation between the quality of a student’s ‘one-pagers’ and their examination results. 2. A pass in this assessment component is necessary in order to pass the unit.


By the start of each of the nine sessions (session 2 to 10), you are required to submit your reflections on the set case study and ONLY one of the 2 core readings (the case study and core readings are listed in the teaching schedule).

The reflection on each item (the case and only ONE of the 2 core readings) ought to identify one or two key points being made in each; and finish off with the posing of a question that interests or troubles you. There is no need to link the case and the reading for each session; you may treat them as separate issues. The ‘one pager’ concept means that your discussion must fit on a page – but it need not fill up a page;  in many instances a short paragraph or group of dot points are sufficient to capture 1 or 2 key insights from each item (i.e. the short case; and the one core article you chose).  Practice speed reading and browsing for key points that ‘jump out’. Be prepared to discuss the case and reading each week in class.

Assessment 4: final exam


The objective of the exam is to test your understanding and application of the basic subject concepts on ethics and sustainability.

Format:  Case study and questions (TBA)

Due to the online delivery mode, exam style and format will be advised later and students will be informed in advance. Information below may change depending on the exam method.

This is a closed-book exam (no resource materials to be brought in) and it will be completed over 2 hours as scheduled by the University. The ideal is “think not ink” – usually shorter and well thought-out answers give best results. You are required to respond to the questions posed for each case or issue provided.

A sample exam style questions will be available in the assessment examples folder during the semester.

Exam part A: Ethics case(s):

  • make a choice on an ethical dilemma and use theoretical frameworks to support your judgement; and
  • prepare a GVV (giving voice to values) response for efficiently and effectively putting ‘the decision’ which has been made into action. 

Exam part B: Sustainability issues & scenarios:

  • discuss issues in managing sustainability
  • discuss methods for measuring sustainability performance

Assessment 5: active participation


The objective of active participation is to learn by doing (active learning) and demonstrate and build on analytical and communication skills. Active participation cannot be gained without regular attendance (defined as 80% of classes – except for absences due extenuating circumstances that are satisfactorily evidenced by the student and agreed to by the lecturer)

Grading criteria:

  • Pass (5) – competent discussion of allocated reading(s) and significant and regular contribution during other session activities
  • Fail (0) – other than pass criteria


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