Certified B Corporations bring the triple bottom line, as John Elkington designed it, to life. B Corporations are a relatively new type of business, legally required to consider impacts on all stakeholders including employees, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. Their mission is to become a community of leaders who drive a global movement of people using business as a force for good.
While new business models continue to evolve, there is still much work for sustainability professionals within every organization, no matter the sector, industry, or role. Through triple bottom line theory, sustainability changemakers have the opportunity to strategically engage colleagues and leadership. As a result, we can make measurable, sustainability-focused progress in virtually everything we do.
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Fundamentally, we have a hard-wired cultural problem in business, finance and markets. Whereas CEOs, CFOs, and other corporate leaders move heaven and earth to ensure that they hit their profit targets, the same is very rarely true of their people and planet targets. Clearly, the Triple Bottom Line has failed to bury the single bottom line paradigm.
The triple bottom line (or otherwise noted as TBL or 3BL) is an accounting framework with three parts: social, environmental (or ecological) and economic. Some organizations have adopted the TBL framework to evaluate their performance in a broader perspective to create greater business value. Business writer John Elkington claims to have coined the phrase in 1994.
An example of an organization seeking a triple bottom line would be a social enterprise run as a non-profit, but earning income by offering opportunities for handicapped people who have been labelled "unemployable", to earn a living by recycling. The organization earns a profit, which is invested back into the community. The social benefit is the meaningful employment of disadvantaged citizens, and the reduction in the society's welfare or disability costs. The environmental benefit comes from the recycling accomplished. In the private sector, a commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR) implies an obligation to public reporting about the business's substantial impact for the better of the environment and people. Triple bottom line is one framework for reporting this material impact. This is distinct from the more limited changes required to deal only with ecological issues. The triple bottom line has also been extended to encompass four pillars, known as the quadruple bottom line (QBL). The fourth pillar denotes a future-oriented approach (future generations, intergenerational equity, etc.). It is a long-term outlook that sets sustainable development and sustainability concerns apart from previous social, environmental, and economic considerations.
Sustainable development was defined by the Brundtland Commission of the United Nations in 1987. Triple bottom line (TBL) accounting expands the traditional reporting framework to take into account social and environmental performance in addition to financial performance.
In 1981, Freer Spreckley first articulated the triple bottom line in a publication called Social Audit - A Management Tool for Co-operative Working. In this work, he argued that enterprises should measure and report on financial performance, social wealth creation, and environmental responsibility. The phrase "triple bottom line" was articulated more fully by John Elkington in his 1997 book Cannibals with Forks: the Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business, where he adopted a question asked by the Polish poet Stanisław Lec, "Is it progress if a cannibal uses a fork?" as the opening line of his foreword. Elkington suggests that it can be, particularly in the case of "sustainable capitalism", wherein competing corporate entities seek to maintain their relative position by addressing people and planet issues as well as profit maximisation.
The concept of TBL demands that a company's responsibility lies with stakeholders rather than shareholders. In this case, "stakeholders" refers to anyone who is influenced, either directly or indirectly, by the actions of the firm. Examples of stakeholders include employees, customers, suppliers, local residents, government agencies, and creditors. According to the stakeholder theory, the business entity should be used as a vehicle for coordinating stakeholder interests, instead of maximizing shareholder (owner) profit. A growing number of financial institutions incorporate a triple bottom line approach in their work. It is at the core of the business of banks in the Global Alliance for Banking on Values, for example.
The triple bottom line consists of social equity, economic, and environmental factors. The phrase, "people, planet, and profit" to describe the triple bottom line and the goal of sustainability, was coined by John Elkington in 1994 while at SustainAbility, and was later used as the title of the Anglo-Dutch oil company Shell's first sustainability report in 1997. As a result, one country in which the 3P concept took deep root was The Netherlands.
The people, social equity, or human capital bottom line pertains to fair and beneficial business practices toward labour and the community and region in which a corporation conducts its business. A TBL company conceives a reciprocal social structure in which the well-being of corporate, labour and other stakeholder interests are interdependent.
An enterprise dedicated to the triple bottom line seeks to provide benefit to many constituencies and not to exploit or endanger any group of them. The "up streaming" of a portion of profit from the marketing of finished goods back to the original producer of raw materials, for example, a farmer in fair trade agricultural practice, is a common feature. In concrete terms, a TBL business would not use child labour and monitor all contracted companies for child labour exploitation, would pay fair salaries to its workers, would maintain a safe work environment and tolerable working hours, and would not otherwise exploit a community or its labour force. A TBL business also typically seeks to "give back" by contributing to the strength and growth of its community with such things as health care and education. Quantifying this bottom line is relatively new, problematic and often subjective. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) has developed guidelines to enable corporations and NGOs alike to comparably report on the social impact of a business.
The planet, environmental bottom line, or natural capital bottom line refers to sustainable environmental practices. A TBL company endeavors to benefit the natural order as much as possible or at the least do no harm and minimize environmental impact. A TBL endeavour reduces its ecological footprint by, among other things, carefully managing its consumption of energy and non-renewables and reducing manufacturing waste as well as rendering waste less toxic before disposing of it in a safe and legal manner. "Cradle to grave" is uppermost in the thoughts of TBL manufacturing businesses, which typically conduct a life cycle assessment of products to determine what the true environmental cost is from the growth and harvesting of raw materials to manufacture to distribution to eventual disposal by the end user.
The profit or economic bottom line deals with the economic value created by the organization after deducting the cost of all inputs, including the cost of the capital tied up. It therefore differs from traditional accounting definitions of profit. In the original concept, within a sustainability framework, the "profit" aspect needs to be seen as the real economic benefit enjoyed by the host society. It is the real economic impact the organization has on its economic environment. This is often confused to be limited to the internal profit made by a company or organization (which nevertheless remains an essential starting point for the computation). Therefore, an original TBL approach cannot be interpreted as simply traditional corporate accounting profit plus social and environmental impacts unless the "profits" of other entities are included as a social benefit.
Advocacy for triple bottom line reforms is common in Green Parties. Some of the measures undertaken in the European Union towards the Euro currency integration standardize the reporting of ecological and social losses in such a way as to seem to endorse in principle the notion of unified accounts, or unit of account, for these deficits. 041b061a72