Jay Parkhill February 4th, 2008
Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge newsletter has an insightful post this morning asking whether sustainability and triple-bottom-line principles are growth opportunities or zero-sum propositions for most companies. There is great discussion in the comments as well.
I’ve mused on the same ideas previously. The idea of “service”- of adding value to society and the world that goes beyond shareholder returns- is captivating. Is it feasible?
The article speculates that there is some “low hanging fruit” that companies have already grabbed and that further integration of economic, social and environmental bottom lines is likely to be more difficult. Several commenters also point out that stock markets tend to reward the economic gains and gloss over less visible results.
True enough. Just getting any one line consistently “in the black” is hard- keeping them all there is probably more than most companies can do all the time. It helps when banks and regulators push issues like climate change onto the economic balance sheet, but the effort is still largely its own reward, which explains why even the companies really excited about the ideas consider 1% of profits to be an acceptable amount to expend on social/environmental goals.
Back to the original question- I believe there is a “balance point” for most businesses- where triple bottom line results may swing back and forth a bit over time, but stay basically stable. If each line is a pendulum, a few companies may be able to get them all swinging together most of the time, but most have to live with a certain amount of lurching when the pendulums get out of sync and then work to smooth the disharmonies. That’s what i strive for in my own business, at least.Tags: sustainability, triple bottom line
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