The first time the business community heard the term “triple bottom line” was the mid 1990’s when John Elkington, a business writer from London England began touting the importance of sustainable development. Elkington believed deeply in corporate responsibility and the idea that modern businesses should be accountable for what they put into the world, not just the money they earned from it.
Since Elkington’s revelation of socially responsible companies, a whole movement on social objectives and ecological business strategies has surfaced. One might say the triple bottom line has become a social mission in and of itself. It describes a world in which businesses can generate revenue and still achieve a social impact.
One area we see the triple bottom line in full effect is through Corp B Certified businesses. These are companies that have earned the title of Corp B by achieving a score of 80 out of a possible 200 on the B Lab Impact Assessment. The assessment asks questions relating directly to social and environmental relevance both in local communities and globally.
At Sandbox Centre we work with many businesses hoping to achieve Corp B Certification as well as business partners simply looking to develop more socially responsible practices. Our experience has taught us plenty about the importance of the triple bottom line and its place in modern business. Here are a few things we’d love for you to take away from this.
What is TBL?
As the name suggests, a triple bottom line is an end goal of three things. These three goals include:
- Social impact
- Environmental impact
- Financial impact
The first two being outward goals, affecting communities and the world around us. The latter being an inward goal, accumulating revenue to become successful and sustainable long-term. Basically, the triple bottom line measures a company’s ability to positively influence, people, the planet, and profit.
This was a foreign concept at its introduction because it countered the general business consensus of focusing on finances, both profit and loss. Now, it’s become easy for businesses to see the benefit of a triple bottom line, not only for themselves but the sustainability of the Canadian economy.
Why is it Important?
The importance of a TBL differs based on the goals of your business, but in general, a triple bottom line makes your business low risk for investors, increases longevity and sustainability as a global business, and increases your reputation as a company who cares.
There are certainly repercussions to ignoring the existence of a TBL. For example, ongoing damage to our ozone, global warming, animal extinction, poverty (even among employees), high turnover rates, poor quality products, and more.
Working with a triple bottom line improves the quality of goods and services because they’re being produced by employees who are treated well. It catapults you into the social enterprise sector which supplies you with new allies and network connections. It creates a positive outlook on your business model and brand from consumers who can improve your revenue. The opportunities for growth are endless.
How do I Use TBL?
To begin using a triple bottom line, take a tally of current practices, products, and tools that use electricity, water, labour, and emit waste, gas, or chemicals. Observe the way your company currently helps or hinders the community it resides in, and the globe at large. Once you know where your strengths and weaknesses are related to finance, people and the planet, you can begin putting infrastructure into place that focuses on the importance of these pieces.
For example, in the case of the environment, your company can make a small change, such as:
- Complying with emissions standards
- Using energy-efficient tools and products
- Putting a cap on water usage and wastage at your company
- Providing products in reusable or recyclable packaging
- Switching to paperless billing
For social goals, you can invest more in your community and employees. Consider implementing the following:
- In-house training programs
- Local outreach through volunteering, donations, and sponsorship
- Employee incentive programs
- Supporting local goals like helping rebuild the downtown Firehall or raising money for a new school bus
- Increase female labour force numbers
Finally, financial goals are more obvious but still require some finessing. You might find that some financial impacts also affect social or environmental goals. Some examples are:
- Decreasing absenteeism by offering personal days, sick days, and vacation days in abundance
- Establishing job growth by hosting job fairs
- Increase income by providing proper training protocols to all employees
How you use the triple bottom line changes based on your industry and long-term goals. As a social enterprise, you’ll see net profit growth and accumulation of business partners from peers working toward the same goal.
Companies who want to truly embrace the triple bottom line might choose to become B Corp Certified through B Lab. B Lab is a non-profit organization that rewards social entrepreneurs with certification as a socially conscious and environmentally friendly business. The company provides something called an Impact Assessment, which determines your current impact on the global economy, environment, and people. It asks questions relevant to your field and the effect you have on the world around you. There are many benefits associated with this achievement, including obtaining a strong network of peers.
What are the Benefits to Me?
Becoming a triple bottom line business offers a plethora of new opportunities and benefits to your brand. From being viewed as socially responsible and a “good business” by consumers, to impressing investors with a low-risk front – you’ll find that many doors open to you that were closed in the past.
Aside from the obvious advantages of feeling good about saving the environment and supporting your community, there is the benefit that by supporting the local economy, you’re supporting your place within it. In other words, you’re becoming more sustainable because you’ve cemented your place within your community.
Businesses that help those around them and still earn enough to contribute to society are important to the future of our society’s Eco structure. If you’re interested in learning more about these benefits and how you can begin using the TBL in your office, contact Sandbox Centre today and join the Sandbox community on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. Keep an eye out on our events page for coming B Corp & Social Enterprise events. We’re partnered with SENCO an initiative of Georgian College’s Centre for Changemaking & Social Innovation (CCSI) who inspire, connect and equip those looking to engage in social enterprise to face cultural, environmental and social challenges in our region. Check out their events page for sessions like Social Enterprise 101 and screenings of the Social Shift movie.