Students at universities in Northern Colorado and Wyoming are sizing up local businesses to determine just how ethical they really are.

The hands-on ethics education for students at the College of Business at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Monfort College of Business at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley and the University of Wyoming College of Business in Laramie is part of the Better Business Bureau Torch Awards for Ethics program, which recognizes companies for their exemplary ethics. The companies are evaluated by students and an independent panel.

"The Torch Award does multiple things in addition to recognizing a company as the best in class ethical business in the community," said Carrie Rossman, director of the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust and overseer of the BBB Torch Award for Ethics project. "Beyond that, it holds them up as examples so that their peers can learn from those companies."

Nominated businesses receive the opportunity to partner with student groups, who then conduct a thorough review of the companies' business practices. The students prepare a written evaluation to present to the BBB panel, recommending or not recommending companies for Torch awards.

"Working with the students allows today's ethical leaders to show tomorrow's leaders how ethics happens outside the classroom in a real-world business operation," Rossman said.

Business students have an additional incentive to successfully complete the project, as well. Upon the submission of the students' nomination papers, the BBB awards $2,000 to the business honor society or college of business at each university.

This year, 18 businesses were selected as nominees to work with the student groups. The finalists have been narrowed down to nine companies, and the winners will be determined at the 16th annual Torch Award for Ethics ceremony at the end of April.

The finalists for this year's award include: AGPROfessionals, Greeley; Capitol Roofing, Cheyenne, Wyo.; FMS Bank, Fort Morgan and Greeley; Greeley Hat Works Inc., Greeley; L & H Industrial, Gillette, Wyo.; Microbial Research Inc., Fort Collins; Mountain West Farm Bureau, Laramie; SteamMaster Restoration and Cleaning LLC, Minturn; and Wyoming State Bank, Laramie and Cheyenne.

UNC business management student Allison Snatchko had the opportunity to work with finalist SteamMaster Restoration and Cleaning. She said the project changed her definition of ethics and will be a motivating factor in the companies to which she looks for future employment.

"Ethics has a different meaning for everybody," she said. "I used to think it was just about doing the right thing. After working with (SteamMaster), I've learned that that's just the basis; it's about doing the right thing because you want to, not because of a reputation or because you feel compelled to."

Each student group has three to five people who evaluate the companies based on the criteria of the Six TRUST! Principles of Ethical/Enterprising: "Transformation at the Top, Reinforce and Build, Unite the Team, Steer Performance, Treasure People and !Enthusiastically Reinvest."

Snatchko said the principle SteamMaster most embodied was "!Enthusiastically Reinvest" because of its efforts to participate in and give back to the community. Teammate and UNC business marketing and management student Kelly Robinson agreed.

"They are really involved with the community, and that sets an example for other businesses to get involved," Robinson said. "It's really amazing how such a small company can make such a big impact; you don't have to be a large corporation to make a difference."

After an employee died nine years ago, the company instituted several annual fundraisers to provide financial support to the family, among other projects.

While UNC offers the Torch Award project as part of a business ethics course, CSU and UW use their business honor societies in a student-run approach.

Jason Clark, a senior studying management entrepreneurship at CSU who has participated in the Torch Award program for two years, said companies often don't give themselves enough credit when it comes to ethics.
"Most companies don't realize they're doing ethical things," he said. "Until they are nominated and we come in to review them, they don't know how ethical they really are."

CSU had three-person teams that worked with five companies for this year's Torch Award project. Clark described this year's company selection as a "mix of success." Only three of the five companies were recommended by students to be considered as finalists.

Sometimes, Clark said, companies are not recommended because they are young and small and hadn't had to face an ethical dilemma or learned how to bring ethics to the forefront of their business.

Other times, businesses are not recommended because of their lack of communication with the student groups or the inability to meet face-to-face with them, according to Snatchko and Robinson.

"Some groups had trouble contacting their company, which makes it hard for them to get to know the company and get a good read on them," Robinson said. "We really lucked out and had an awesome company. Meeting with them in person was really beneficial for us. They were very hands-on and very accommodating."

Submissions are reviewed in January of each year by an independent panel of judges consisting of past award winners, BBB board members and other business professionals to determine finalists and award winners.
Since 1999, the award has been given to more than 80 businesses in the BBB's 38-county territory in Northern Colorado and Wyoming.

Three companies won the 2013 Torch Awards for Ethics, whereas seven businesses received the award in 2012. Last year's winners were GF Harvest, a gluten-free oats company from Powell, Wyo.; Basic Beginnings, a child-care and early learning center from Laramie; and Jorgensen Laboratories Inc., a specialty veterinary equipment distributor from Loveland.

This year's awards ceremony will be held April 30 at the Lincoln Center, 417 W. Magnolia St., Fort Collins.