Triple Bottom Line / Sustainability
(People, Planet, Profit)
Businesses hold three equally fundamental obligations: to produce sustainable results in the social, environmental and economic fields.
Economic growth and profit
As measured independently of other responsibilities, ensure the fair distribution of opportunity, wealth and welfare along the line of value-creation.
As measured independently of other responsibilities, contribute to the continuing livability of the planet.
As measured independently of other responsibilities, achieve bottom line results ensuring the business’s long term viability.
Each of the three values are pursued autonomously and businesses should tabulate and present results for each of the three categories individually
Sustainability: Economic sustainability: the idea of profit is gauged by endurance (for the business operation) through time as opposed to immediate maximization. Social sustainability is understood on the economic and human levels.
Economics: In a metropolitan area, a reality where all executives are hauling down millions a year ultimately becomes unsustainable when other workers can no longer afford to live near the city and so aren't available to do the supporting work necessary to keep the executives going.
Humanity: political unrest and violence may erupt in regions or entire countries where a society's wealth concentrates in a narrow demographic. (The Fair Trade movement may be understood as an expression of sustainability in both economic and human senses.) Environmental sustainability requires stewardship of our natural surroundings: use balanced by preservation to enable continued use. A brewery dripping industrial waste into the soil fails the test of sustainability when the toxins infiltrate the water table and poison the groundwater the brewery needs to make its beer.
Social and environmental initiatives hold value independent of business activity and are recognized and pursued beside marketplace business activity
How do you measure success in each of the three areas - people, planet and profit?
How do you measure success in each of the three areas so that you can normalize, that is, compare relative success in each of the three areas?
Assuming you can normalize measures of sustainability in the three areas, should one area - or one cause within an area - be emphasized over the others?
Triple Bottom Line theory is difficult to implement in the theoretically vigorous sense because of problems associated with measuring and comparing results across the three divergent categories of responsibility.
One response is a soft triple bottom line ethics, one where distinct actions are taken on all three fronts without rigorously defining their relative import. Another response is to focus efforts on the more abstract idea of "sustainability."
The Great Lakes Brewing Company, which donates to charitable social organizations, acts to preserve the local water supply (important for beer), and seeks long-haul commercial viability.