Threats facing the global society in which Australia is a part are threatening the survival and sustainability of organizations. Bansal (2012) argues that while regulations may coerce firms to respond to an issue, it is difficult to ensure that they are applied equitably. Despite the increased attention being paid to ethics and ethical standards in organizations, accompanied by what can be seen as increased ethics curricula in business schools, businesses generally fail to show meaningful reduction in their unethical behaviour.

Harned (2008) notes that business has suffered greatly in the area of ethics, and expresses deep concern about the deterioration in ethical behaviour in the workplace. Skidelsky and Skidelsky (2010) paint a bleak picture of society, claiming that in some circles, leisure has merged with work entirely, where parties are an opportunity to network, or to holiday. Venron (2010) contends that self-interest and calculation have derailed individuals’ values. To get back on track, individuals must remember the effective bonds that link them to one another, concluding that their current moral discourse lacks a compelling vision of what it is to be human.

Chakraborty (2010) maintains that economic fundamentalism has crowded out alternative ways of thinking, leaving scant room for social considerations, whereas shareholder value is shorthand for doing whatever it takes to pump up the stock price. Milbank (2010) asserts that the financial meltdown has pitched democracy itself into crisis, whereas it is vital that efforts be exerted to overthrow the assumptions that undermine trust, gift-giving and meaning, concluding that what human beings most desire is not material wealth, but social recognition. Hutton (2008b, 2008a, 2010) has been critical of the lack of leadership, hinting to the rise and fall of capitalism. He argues that capitalism has been undermined by an abuse of the very principle that is its cornerstone: fairness. It is essential that the idea of just rewards be reclaimed, contending that profit is ethical to the extent it is proportionate to effort and not due to good luck or brute power. Recently, Bansal (2012) posits that one of the largest barriers to sustainable development is its failure to be institutionalized in the minds of key stakeholders. This is a very complex situation, and it would be difficult to solve, however, a step in the right direction is to examine, evaluate and understand ethical mindsets in the Australian context and how the existence of ethical mindsets would affect the ethical climate in Australia, leading to more sustainable organizations.

Building on Issa’s (2009) findings on the existence of and components of ethical mindsets, this project intends to examine the impact of ethical mindsets on ethical climates in an attempt to safeguard Australia from corporate fraud and contribute to the sustainable development of Australian organizations, and the region. The findings of this project will have several theoretical, practical and methodological implications. This project has the potential to contribute to the corporate world by offering a better understanding of ethical mindsets, their components and the impact on ethical climate providing a framework or a model that would assist in the selection and recruitment of employees who would enhance the ethical climate of organizations within Australia and the region leading to more sustainable organizations.

This project will: (1) examine and evaluate the ethical mindsets, (2) assess the intrinsic and extrinsic variables of individuals (e.g. CEOs, managers, and other employees) and organizations, and, (3) evaluate ethical climate within organizations, leading to an identification of what is required to transform an organization into a ‘sustainable organization’ (Figure 1).

This project will utilise a refined version of the research tool developed by Issa (2009) to first collect data from individuals (e.g. CEO, managers and other employees). A statement will be added to this measuring tool enquiring as to whether the respondent would be interested in participating in follow-up interviews or focus groups interviews to verify the quantitative results. Implementing appropriate research techniques, tools, samples and the application of the interpretive mixed-methods approach will assist in achieving the outcomes and the outputs of this research. This approach is chosen due to the sensitive nature of the concepts that make up this research.

Issa’s (2009) findings identified eight components of ethical mindsets: (1) aesthetic spirituality, (2) religious spirituality, (3) optimism, (4) harmony and balance, (5) truth seeking, (6) pursuit of joy, peace and beauty, (7) making a difference, and, (8) professionalism. Following focus groups interviews, these eight components were reduced to six, with slight changes to the names reflecting the overall dimensions of each of these components of (1) aesthetic spirituality, (2) religious spirituality, (3) optimism, (4) contentment, (5) making a difference, and, (6) interconnectedness. This project adds to this important and unique finding on ethical mindsets. This will be the first time that an attempt has been made to link ethical mindsets to the ethical climate within organizations and to subsequently transform these organizations into sustainable organizations.

In the spirit of Issa’s (2009) earlier work, this project goes past and well beyond the obvious, in an attempt to understand the ethical mindsets of individuals within Australian organizations and their impact on the ethical climates within those organizations, which might then lead to greater understanding of how to develop more sustainable organizations.

Using a mixed method design, both quantitative and qualitative data will be collected through an online survey. The online survey is composed of 40 items (including demographic questions) with the provision of space for respondents to provide their comments on any of the sections in this survey. Thereafter, and following the analysis of this quantitative and qualitative data, interviews and focus groups interviews will be held aimed at triangulation, amplification and modification of the results generated. Indeed, this project, with its mixed method design, will contribute theoretically and practically towards providing a good understanding of ethical mindsets and their impact on the ethical climate within Australian organizations (public and private sector). The framework might then be used by practitioners and policy makers in their ongoing crusade to tackle the problems of unethical behaviour in Australian businesses.

This project will advance knowledge in the field of business ethics and sustainable organizations, contributing to ongoing academic research, and influencing the content of higher education programmes.