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May 22, 2024

What is the triple bottom line and how can you implement it?

Posted by
Christine Deckert

As businesses are rapidly evolving to respond to global expectations for sustainability and corporate social responsibility, the traditional focus solely on financial profit is giving way to a more holistic approach that also considers the impact on people and the planet. This approach, known as the triple bottom line (TBL), is reshaping the way businesses operate, integrating economic, social and environmental considerations into their decision-making processes. Keep reading to delve deeper into the concept of the triple bottom line, its significance in today's business environment and how businesses can effectively implement this approach to drive positive change.

What is the Triple Bottom Line?

The triple bottom line is a concept that expands the primary function of a business from growing profits - the bottom line - to also delivering measurable impacts on people and the environment. This approach pushes beyond shareholder returns and drives accountability to a business’ broader base of stakeholders. The “Three P’s,” people, profit and the planet, give businesses a broad framework to understand and improve their triple bottom line impact.

The concept of the triple bottom line emerged alongside the rise of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainable business practices. The term was coined in 1994 by John Elkington, whose intention was to rework the DNA of capitalism by creating a sustainability framework. It has influenced business strategy and consumer demands by challenging organizations to consider their broader impact beyond financial returns. As a whole, the sustainability sector has boomed. In fact, the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals conservatively forecast the generation of over $12 trillion market opportunities a year by 2030. As businesses look to capitalize on these opportunities, careful considerations must be made to ensure positive outcomes align with impact goals. 

Why is it difficult to effectively implement a triple bottom line?

Defining and measuring the true impact of corporate social responsibility strategies is fraught with complexity and mixed results. As annual impact reports proliferate with do-good claims, many lack substance and fail to move the needle. In 2018, Elkington wrote in the Harvard Business Review that he was “recalling” the triple bottom line concept to inspire “a new wave of TBL innovation and deployment.” He argued that we need to scale our thinking and set a new “radical intent” to start “working toward a triple helix for value creation, a genetic code for tomorrow’s capitalism, spurring the regeneration of our economies, societies and biosphere.” So what does this mean for businesses who want to turn their good intentions into measurable results for their triple bottom line initiatives?

Read how idgroup became a certified B Corp

Finding Purpose Beyond Profit Maximization

With inspiring corporate leaders, like Patagonia and Bombas, it’s been proven that you can do well by doing good. Even Apple’s latest sustainability campaign, titled “Mother Nature” (which our team loves!), presents a compelling outlook on the company’s climate actions. What makes these businesses so effective at achieving their social and sustainable impact goals? They clearly communicate their purpose through everything they do… and build a culture around it. They also create highly specific action plans that engage and optimize their entire system around a clear vision and well articulated theory of change. For Patagonia, it was a complete transformation. “The climate crisis is our business” thrust them into a league of impact all their own.

Rally your team around purpose

The Will to Evolve (and implement)

For over 35 years, idgroup has helped leaders build purpose-driven organizations that do what they say and mean what they do. We have seen how purpose generates and focuses the willpower of teams to create positive change. Change at the scale required by the triple bottom line model requires innovation, courage, collaboration and grit. Following a structured process, like our Core2BCorp framework, to explore, prioritize, plan and implement can close the gap between your vision for good and a reality of impact. 

Learn more about Core2BCorp