Kristin York
Kristin York
Director of Business Innovation

Cultivating Innovation Around The Triple Bottom Line

in·no·va·tion  
     noun \i-nə-ˈvā-shən\
: a new idea, device, or method
: the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods

What if innovation in the form of a triple bottom line was the primary responsibility of a business? Since innovation is the primary theme for our upcoming conference, lets put some context to the concept! At Sierra Business Council, we thrive on new ideas and methods for increasing community vitality through economic prosperity, environmental quality and social fairness. In other words, our commitment to introducing and practicing the triple bottom line approach is part of our DNA. At our 20th Anniversary Conference, "Peak Innovation: The Next 20 Years", we’ll be talking a lot about the triple bottom line so here is your primer on what it is, why it is so important and why it can be controversial.

COMM KY Blog 3BLimage 2014 09The triple bottom line (also referred to as 3BL, 3Ps or people, planet, profit) is the foundation of the sustainable business movement. The term was officially coined by John Elkington in 1994 and its important because it refers to the need for businesses to measure not just their economic or financial bottom line, but their environmental and social bottom lines as well. Essentially, 3BL looks at the true cost of doing business (in addition to the economic bottom line) by taking into account their:

* environmental footprint (extraction and use of undervalued natural assets or production of toxins and greenhouse gases) and,
* social impact – the fair and favorable treatment of employees, respect for host community and philanthropic activities of the organization.

The triple bottom line approach can be controversial because it is relatively difficult to measure the environmental and social impacts since standards and traditional metrics don’t exist and in many cases, businesses are not necessarily regulated or required to report on the environmental or social bottom line. The biggest push back on the triple bottom line comes from businesses that insist the basic tenet of capitalism is to maximize the profit to their shareholders. This is a very myopic view of sustainability and presumes the three pillars of the triple bottom line are mutually exclusive.

That is to say, the greatest benefit a business can bring to society is to be wildly successful financially, reward shareholders, grow, expand, create more jobs that in turn generate more economic activity. The problem with this approach is that our accounting systems are not designed to measure the true cost of doing business because a true cost would include external costs.

The triple bottom line takes a systems perspective to defining the “greatest benefit to society” that challenges the maximization of profit if that profit is delivered at the expense of the environment and fair treatment of people. A sustainable business using a triple bottom line approach operates in a way that causes minimal harm to the environment and does not deplete, but rather restores and regenerates.

The conference program is filled with thought leaders that understand the need to value ecosystems and human creativity. They are exploring various ways to cultivate innovation around triple bottom line thinking that reduces waste and accounts for social and natural capital. Businesses like Patagonia that has adopted closed loop production systems that yield no waste or toxicity. Or Cutting Edge Capital who are designing new ways to access capital. Organizations like Ceronix and Placer County who personify the business case for sustainability through their energy conservation efforts and increased productivity of natural resources. Visionaries like Van Jones who understands the benefits of elevating underserved communities through green jobs training programs. The list goes on. 

Join us at Peak Innovation: The Next 20 Years to learn more about the benefits of triple bottom line thinking and to take home tools that will help you invigorate innovation in yourself and your community. 

Use the code, "SIERRA50" at registration for $50 off the total conference cost.