Unpacking the true meaning of “Triple Bottom Line”

When you hear the term “Triple Bottom Line” (TBL or 3BL), what do you think of? Accounting? Corporate social responsibility? Let’s unpack the true meaning of this concept and look at how your company can use TBL to your advantage.

What are the 3 bottom lines?

Simply put – it’s a sustainability framework that examines a company’s impact based on People, Planet, and Profit (3Ps). 

People – your company’s overall quantified impact on stakeholders, including employees, customers, suppliers, communities, and any others being affected.

Planet – your company’s overall quantified impact on its natural environment. This can include carbon footprint, usage of natural resources, damage and harm towards ecosystems and communities, and initiatives for restoration.

Profit – your company’s overall quantified impact on the local, national and international economy. This includes but goes beyond your accounting as this theme includes job creation, innovation, capacity and resiliency building, paying your fair share of taxes, etc.

This term was coined by John Elkington 27 years ago, and it has since become part of business jargon. While he envisioned for this concept to revolutionize tomorrow’s capitalism, so far it has been mostly reduced to a reporting and accounting tool. Disappointed in this development,  Elkington “recalled” this concept in 2018 in a short article in Harvard Business Review. He said: “To truly shift the needle, however, we need a new wave of TBL innovation and deployment.” 

What does this new wave of TBL mean? 

Triple Bottom Line, when implemented the right away, can be the one-way ticket for businesses to become sustainability leaders in their industries. 

Start by evaluating what this means for your business. Then, look for ways to embed this concept in your core strategic planning. The key drive of businesses must expand from just Profit to its “People” (social) and “Planet” (environmental) impact as well. The TBL concept allows you to see your business as a wholesome entity that will thrive in the new economy. 

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