What is the triple bottom line?

When I tell people that I’m an intern for P3 Utah and we focus on promoting the triple line, the first thing out of their mouths is always “What’s that?”. This is just one example of the many terms used in the sustainability world that are not widely used by the general public. This can cause confusion and misunderstanding if we don’t take the time to properly explain what we mean, and can sometimes even harm our cause. To help with this, we will spend the next few blog posts discussing what these concepts mean and different approaches to bringing them into conversations.

If you don’t know what the triple bottom line is, here’s a brief overview. It’s called the triple bottom line because there are three elements to it: people, planet, and profit. It is sometimes called Triple P, P3, TBL, or 3BL. Each name means the same thing: that businesses are responsible for their social and environmental impact, as well as their financial well-being. Let’s go over each “P”:

People

Because we’re all human, don’t you think the human impact of any activity ought to be considered? This part of the triple bottom line means that organizations take responsibility for the social, or human, impact that they have. For many organizations, a good place to start with this is how they treat their employees. Are the employees treated fairly and do they have the tools they need to be successful in both the careers and personal lives? Do we invest in our employees through continual education opportunities? Do we consider diversity a strength that we are seeking?

The other question is how the company’s activity is affecting each community it touches. Are corners being cut that end up hurting consumers? Are any populations being taken advantage of? Or does the company focus on giving back to the community through volunteer days or contributing to local causes? Hopefully the answer is the latter.

Planet

We do not currently have the technology to move to another planet. So, we better take care of the one we have. The planet part of the triple bottom line refers to the responsibility businesses have to take care of the earth. Instead of depleting resources and dumping waste, companies should look for ways they can use green energy or less water. They should find ways to reduce their waste and find ways to reuse or recycle all of it they can. And obviously, they shouldn’t do things like dump toxic waste into rivers.

Profit

The fact of life is that every person and organization needs some amount of money for survival. It’s important that companies be able to pay vendors, employees, and investors. This keeps the economy and human progress going. Any organization that cannot keep it’s doors open will be of no good to anyone, no matter how great the ideas behind it are. It’s important not to forget this when discussing the purpose of business, because with profit, companies cannot contribute to the other two parts of the triple bottom line.

Companies should be asking themselves how they are doing on each aspect of the triple bottom line. The ultimate goal of the concept is for every business to consider each part equally important and to be able to measure its impact in each area. We should all care about the triple bottom line, because we all want to spend our precious time and resources on making lives better, preserving the planet for our children, and sustaining our operations so that we can continue doing good.

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