Triple bottom line?

When you’re dealing with sustainable entrepreneurship, you have probably already came across the term “Triple Bottom Line”. According to Wikipedia, the triple bottom line is defined like this:

The triple bottom line (abbreviated as “TBL” or “3BL”, and also known as “people, planet, profit” or “the three pillars”) captures an expanded spectrum of values and criteria for measuring organizational (and societal) success: economic, ecological and social.

In practical terms, triple bottom line accounting means expanding the traditional reporting framework to take into account ecological and social performance in addition to financial performance.

Basically what we’re talking about is this scheme, which is used as the standard for CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). In the beginning of the 80′s, this scheme was radical. Talking in business about society and nature as equally important pillars (apart from making money) was never seen before.

Relevance of the triple bottom line in the 21st century

While back in the 80′s this scheme was shockingly radical, nowadays it’s not. Social and environmental issues are on every companies agenda by now, but they’re not treated equally. Most of the time, the social and environmental costs are driven by regulations rather than vision.

Ecologist tried to adjust the triple bottom line from Planet-People-Profit to Planet-People-Purpose. Although it’s a good attempt, they haven’t reached the desired effect. the reason for this is pretty obvious: The world doesn’t work like this…

we all sort of know the world is not build out of these pillars. Economy, society and environment are not equal. They are interconnected and dependent on each other, but they’re not equal. If your goal is to be sustainable, and to guide your company towards a sustainable model, using this triple bottom line is pure non-sense.

The single bottom line of CSR

First we’ll take a look at the pillar environment. This pillar is not just trees or animals, we’re talking about the biosphere. The environment we operate in is the entire world and everything connected to it.

We cannot live without this biosphere (nor can any other creature on this planet). Since we as species live as a society, keeping this planet live-able is not a goal, it’s a requirement. The biosphere is our home and therefore the single most important thing to take care of (basically it’s that or extinction).

Because of all the technological innovations the past 100 years, we were able to connect with anyone, anywhere at any given moment. This evolution came to be as a result of the industrial revolution.

This globalization is something we should not only cherish, we also have to learn how to use it to create a better world for everyone (from me to we). For a long time we’ve seen this entire economy as the drive to make everything in our society work. This however is not correct.

Economy is the glue that keeps our society, as we know it nowadays, together. If this economy fails or stops, we will have to adapt to that situations and it will not be a pretty sight. But we will not extinct as a species. If people would extinct however, economy will die as well.

Economy is a (big) part of society, it’s not society itself. Therefore, the single bottom line of sustainability can be rewritten like this:

If you want to implement CSR correctly, this is what your structure should look like. The triple bottom line is a great tool for quickly explaining sustainability to people who are not familiar with the concept, but it is not complete.

This post is reworked version of this post on my previous blog, which on its part was based on this blogpost.


About leyssensjan

Jan Leyssens is a designer and entrepreneur who strongly believes you can’t turn sustainability into a positive story if your main focus is on negative impact. When designing, he is always looking for the overlap between activism and entrepreneurship, technology and community. His main expertise lies in strategic business model development, Circular Economy, the makermovement, and social innovation. With a background in Industrial Design, Jan quickly shifted his focus towards business design and using the design process in strategic management. Jan is the father of two kids and founder & CEO of Regenerative Design, co-founder of Full Circle, ImpactBoost, and the Circular Design map, podcaster, storyteller, and changemaker.

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