There appears to be multiple interpretations of the phrase “triple bottom line” (3BL), and at least one abrogation of it. Several interpretations surprisingly miss profit. Go figure. One of the descriptions, which I like, is articulated by the Center for Sustainable Business Practices: The 3BLis defined as Profit, People and Planet. The graphic representation of nearly every interpretation has sustainability as the intersection and a functional balance of these three major areas of measurement: profit, people and planet. While I prefer to thrive vs. just sustain, along with my environment and community, there are some people and organizations that see sustainability as a bad thing. Predominantly they believe that sustainability infringes on the personal rights. I wonder if those that see sustainability in a negative light feel they are an endangered species?
A key factor in many of these systems is a vision that identifies relationships between components, their interdependence and flows, in and through out the daily activities of business and markets. This is true among the more successful organizations that practice 3BL. That is, they have gone into detail encompassing the relationships between resources, and optimization occurring as the result of prudent analysis. Several of the triple bottom line diagrams show intersections of people to profits, profits to planet and planet to people.
Yet another view of the 3BL concept describes and ranks areas of connections along six main axes or, dimensions: Economic-Profit, Social-People, Environmental-Planet, and the intersections representing limiting factors; and then Human Capital, Financial Capital, Nature Capital. These dimensions are some of the consequences of various interactions of Emissions, Jobs and Cost of ownership.
One of my favorite concepts is “Cradle to Cradle,” described by William McDonough. (Several brief articles outlining his concept are found on the Tree Huggers site http://www.treehugger.com/sustainable-product-design/understanding-labels-part-1-are-they-green-or-greenwash-yes.html)
The goal of this whole process is to have products and processes that produce no waste with a minimum negative impact on the earth and people. Plus, have a positive impact on their cash flow. Mr. McDonough explains how the integrated design process can achieve zero waste in the life cycle for products. He goes on to lay out a strategy for advancing a greener company culture. His organization has set up a certification program that has gained traction among several large companies. Businesses electing to enter in to the Cradle to Cradle, program are able to promote their participation with a certification label. In the early steps, these companies can start displaying the certification labeling when they have simply identified all the components in their products, later replacing the less green parts with more environmentally friendly components and process. It’s a good first step moving in the direction of producing no or minimum waste. If (IFF) the rest of the steps are diligently followed up, it is certainty a good way to proceed.
My lingering question is how much of many business’s efforts are to actually be more sustainable, and how much is really just so much green wash?