You are a business leader, a project coordinator, a man manager. And you’re doing it wrong.
Every day you make strategic choices, you are ignoring an opportunity to cost save and boost productivity. You could have better morale running through your company, and a better organisational system for coping with changing market conditions and disruptive innovations. You could be more progressive, generating a more positive image of your business, and you could be in a stronger position to square up against your competitors.
All by giving human and environmental capital as much attention as shareholder values.
Unconvinced? Fair enough, but many aren’t.
- Spotify has a flat hierarchy, encourage flexible hours and offer excellent paternity and maternity entitlement. They promote group decision-making, create contemporary office spaces, and provide free meals, beers and concerts.
- And what about Adidas? They have strategies in place to further contribute to cotton farmer-education initiatives; over 80% of their leather sources come from gold-rated tanneries, and they have developed a system for material tracking to reduce the carbon emissions of their suppliers and lower their average energy consumption.
- Or IKEA, where they have successfully reduced working hours but not wages of those employed by their Chinese suppliers; their entire lighting range is compatible with energy-saving LED bulbs, and half the total wood used in their products is from sustainable sources.
These are trendsetting companies putting the philosophy of the triple bottom line (3BL) into practice, and doing it well. But what is 3BL? And, without the mega-clout of the Spotifies, the Adidases and the IKEAs of the world, how can your company expect to do the same?
The Triple Bottom Line: What is it?
The traditional bottom line for any business is its profit margin, and organisations that operate with this as their only concern are, at their worst, left unguarded against collapsing into the same downward spiral of corporate malpractice and ethics black holes that see outrageous cancer-link denials, climate change denials and subprime mortgage crisis denials. We can’t deny the importance of healthy financial performance in any company, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other concerns that should take equal prominence in a business’s thinking.
With 3BL, there are two further factors to the accounting framework, so that both social and environmental considerations are weighty influences alongside profit and loss on how a business measures its performance and chooses to progress.
Ethical labour practices (commute times, working conditions, compensation, health plans) and regional impact (noise pollution, are communities adversely affected by company operations? is the company actively contributing to the regions of its activities in a positive way?) are examples of areas that relate to how socially responsible a company is.
Meanwhile, effective use of resources (fossil fuel consumption, air conditioning, lighting, land use) and management of waste (air quality, hazardous waste storage, recycling) are among those areas relating to how environmentally responsible a company is.
3BL, then, is about a sustainable approach to all these areas of business practice: profitability, people and the planet (the three Ps). But while a holistic approach to sustainability may sound like a nice idea, where’s the incentive for a small business to incorporate it into the business model? Couldn’t
yourself with social concerns and the environment have a detrimental effect on that traditional bottom line?
How do the three Ps influence and interact with each other?
Well, the fact of what “sustainability” means is its own compelling reason to pursue it. If something is sustainable, it should be secure and long-lasting; it means that you are thinking about the future. Furthermore, sustainable practices are not so difficult to implement – even for a small business – and, in fact, often have the potential to greatly benefit businesses in the short term, too.
Additionally, there is the fact that with 3BL, the three Ps aid and inform one another, paving the way for further and greater degrees of responsible practice in each of the three areas, which makes the matter of maintaining sustainability across the various regions of business practice not just a matter of obligation, but a concrete way to perpetuate positive, enduring solutions and behaviour throughout a company.
3BL Implementation and Positive Feedback
Let’s look at how an SME might take advantage of the 3BL concept and the positive feedback that occurs as a result of introducing a sustainable practice into one area of its business.
An office wants to reduce its paper and energy consumption, so it implements collaboration and project management software, which provides a single location for saved files and documents, as well as a smoother system for team members and management to communicate and complete tasks.
The first immediate benefit is that paper usage is dramatically reduced, as is the need for photocopiers, cutting back spending on rental and electricity.
Also, using a modern system for collaboration improves how effectively the team works together, reducing the time wasted on unnecessary communications, and keeping each person informed as projects progress.
The improved system for project management has two further direct benefits.
- The cloud-based service offers superior data protection, and it creates an opportunity for better working conditions; online collaboration allows for flexible working and remote teams. This has significant knock-on effects.
- Employees commute less frequently, which reduces the total carbon footprint of the business while also ensuring that there are less sick days, thereby improving overall productivity. Also, the company reconsiders how much office space it requires, with the possibility of huge savings in rent as the result of no longer needing on-site staff, document storage facilities or in-house servers.
With a single shift towards 3BL considerations, the company has opened up the possibility of greater flexibility for workers and organisational structure; it enjoys more efficient, more sustainable working practices; it cost and energy saves; it has strengthened its brand image; and it has created the economic conditions for further, more meaningful development of sustainable strategies and the consideration of the three Ps in its business model.
Changing How We Measure Performance
3BL is having an enormous effect on how organisations measure performance, and on the strategies that they are putting in place to cope with the challenges of intense competition, fast-evolving technologies, and a better-informed, more environmentally conscious consumer.
Whether or not these organisations have a genuine concern for people and the planet at their heart is another matter, but with such benefits available, it would seem that aligning their goals with needs of the three Ps is a no-brainer.
Images: ” the triple bottom line (3BL or TBL) concept – people, planet, profit (social, ecological, economic) taken into account for sustainable development, presented on blackboard with colorful sticky notes /Shutterstock.com“
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