Being an ethical business is something that "just makes sense" says TOMS footwear Australian managing director John Elliott.

Elliott, who was the keynote speaker at this morning's PwC Herald Talks event, said people should look to business not necessarily the government, to lead in the area of ethical business.

Several hundred guests attended the event focused on Conscious Business or whether ethical business is good business. Elliot's company, TOMS footwear operates a "one-for-one" business model where for every item sold, an equivalent item or service is gifted.

The scheme started with shoes and the company has since given more than 60 million pairs of footwear to children in some of the poorest countries around the world.


It has also started selling eyewear and with every pair of glasses sold, the company funds a full eye exam. Buying TOMS coffee gets someone fresh water, its bags provide nurse training and supplies for women in childbirth, and its backpacks go towards a bullying prevention programme.

"You can see the success of companies that elevate their purpose," Elliott said.

"The interesting thing is when you elevate purpose, your profit goes up so it's not about choosing one or the other, and I think every day more and more people are making smart choices and thinking more about what they buy."

Panelist Mark Powell, former chief executive at The Warehouse Group and CEO in residence at Massey University, said being ethical had a flow on effect from staff and company profit to society as a whole, and was an advantage in attracting and retaining staff.

"People are motivated by working for a company that is doing good or seen to be trying to make a difference," Powell said.

"People want to feel good about where they work and you don't just want compliance as a chief executive, you want commitment," he said. "So is ethical business good business, I think it is - it's good for customers, it's good for your team and your people and it is good for profit and for society."

According to Elliott, being a conscious business was becoming more important for younger staff, with 80 per cent of millenials wanting to work for a company or buy from brands that had a positive social impact.

Panelist Michele Embling, chair of PwC New Zealand, said its annual CEO survey showed customers were becoming the main driver for business strategy rather than shareholders - a shift that had occurred in the last year or so.

She said ethical business was becoming a major factor in customer's buying choices and brand support as well.