Societal and environmental change projects can be carefully planned and managed, but how successful they are in reality can be attributed to planning and luck. One challenge for socially responsible ethical practitioners is to understand and accept the boundaries between their actions and the intercession of a concept called moral luck.
Moral luck exists when a person is morally responsible for something which was not completely under that person’s control (Slote, 1994; Mickelson, 2019). Philosophers (e.g., Whitman, 2008; Levy, 2016; Hartman, 2019) have argued that a paradox exists around moral luck because to be morally responsible, we assume an individual (through their choices) is accountable for their actions and the outcomes of those actions. In other words, morally responsible people strive to be in control of their behaviour, but we know that individuals are not in complete control of the outcomes. We also know that negative outcomes lead to a moral judgment against individuals, while a positive or neutral outcome has limited moral judgement. For example, Nagel (1979) illustrates the scenarios and judgments of the drunk drivers one labelled ‘Killer’ and one labelled ‘Reckless Driver’. This leads to the question of if the outcomes of the actions of a moral individual are dependent to some extent on accidental factors such as moral luck, what does this mean for ethical business decision-making and how does moral luck affect the evaluation and judgment of the outcomes of community projects aimed at societal and environmental change?
This paper extends our works on a pollinator and community garden presented at the 2021 ABEN Virtual Conversations and Conference. Our community project was aimed at building a garden for people and pollinators. Pollinator numbers are declining across the world, including in Australia (Cheptou, 2021) because of loss of habitat, urbanisation, and mono-cultural agricultural systems (Klein et al., 2007; Aizen et al., 2009; Millard et al., 2021). Pollinators, such as insects, reptiles, and mammals, are indispensable for the existence of essential crops allowing the production of food and the preservation of the broader ecosystem (Baldock et al., 2016; Baldock, 2020). Specifically, global scientists estimate that pollinators contribute to seed production in 79% of plants, that 50% require animal pollinators, and that 33% of species are not able to make seeds without pollinators (Rodger et al., 2021).
The policymakers and architects of the government programs for agriculture and housing have been susceptible to the paradox of moral luck because they have actively sought to increase food production and provide housing to support the needs of people. This deliberate action for the sake of the community has contributed (unintentionally) to the current negative environmental outcomes for biodiversity. While the full impact of the decline in pollinators is not yet known, it is generally believed that it will negatively impact food production and biodiversity. However, environmental scientists are finally connecting a positive economic value with biodiversity actions (Morandin & Winston, 2006) reducing the moral dilemma that existed in the gap between the needs of people, profit, and the planet. In addition, recent experimental projects are providing evidence that suggests the regeneration of landscapes with supportive habitats can quickly increase pollinators’ numbers (O’Brien & Arathi, 2021). This implies that positive environmental actions aimed at building habitat undertaken by individuals, communities, organisations, and governments can make a difference. Moreover, engaging with these environmental actions could swing the judgement associated with moral luck back towards a neutral or positive perspective because decision-makers renewed focus that includes beneficial environmental outcomes.
At a localised level, the construction of a community garden can be seen as a positive activity to help support pollinators and people. Community gardens are seen as social movements that are focused on interactions between people and nature (Foodwise, 2022). In Australia, the growth and depth of the community garden movement are clearly visible. For instance, Community Gardens Australia notes that its network has grown from 60 to 600 participating community gardens in the last 20 years. These gardens are enablers for people to interact and connect with each other and with nature, which can create a space of well-being and belonging (Guitart et al., 2012; Frumkin et al., 2017). Belonging, in turn, helps people to build trust and responsibility (Mountain, 2016), characteristics, which support behavioural change.
Our focus on a community change approach guided our responsible moral actions and our experiences relating to moral luck (Nagel, 1979), where the situation and the results were outside our control. The question for us in our ethnographic reflections is to consider the impact of the moral luck we experienced and the ensuing moral judgments. For example, following a change in the perspective of a stakeholder, we agreed to compromise an ecological factor (the placement of our habitat areas) to minimise the likelihood of people being stung by bees. We understood that this decision would have significant implications for the ecological outcomes of the project; however, we traded this factor for people to increase their sense of belonging and make the garden a ‘safer’ space for them.
With our research and Virtual Conversations contribution, we focus on addressing the concept of moral luck and applying it to our small-scale local initiative. Time will judge the moral luck we experienced and the impact of the project on our community and nature. If we were successful in our attempt to create a world worth living in, the sparks will fly and more initiatives may follow.


ConferenceAustralasian Business Ethics Network
Abbreviated titleHope, luck and current crises: Conversations and stories of business ethics
Internet address


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