[P]eople, planet, profit

Ever hear of corporate social responsibility? How about the triple bottom line? And where does Sustainability fit into it all?

I’m proud to say I’ve worked for Unilever, one of those big corporate monsters out to consume the world and wipe its mouth with your first-born. One of the key reasons for my pride was the internal effort & rigour I’ve witnesses, applied to ways that business could be a source for good in the world.

So what I wanted to share tonight, in brief, was a quick and easy introduction to a few of the terms all in line with ‘business as a source for good’:

Corporate social responsibility

CSR is was one of the first buzzwords in this space. It brought with it many handshakes, photos & otherwise easily publicized elements. It stood for the responsibility that a corporate took in its impact on the social wellbeing of the world around it. It admitted that businesses have a key influence in such matters, an idea previously not given much weight.

Unfortunately, as one would expect from a ‘first in’ type change, the idea spread like wildfire, yet the values didn’t follow suit. What was found in many cases afterwards was the box ticking exercise of businesses, simply aimed at bring shown to align to such things but not truly buying into them.

Another view which emerged with time, was the idea that businesses cannot simply write a cheque & claim to be socially responsible. The responsibility in fact vested far more strongly in their operations than it did in some monetary grant.

And so CSR had continued to evolve, in order to capture not only the correct definition, but also the correct actions.

Triple bottom line

Business financial results form the Centre of how a business it reviewed, analyzed & management. Traditionally these include a top line (raw sales) and a bottom line (profit made).

With time the idea of business benefits & responsibility grew enough to be considered as part of a business’ true results & analysis, and so the triple bottom line was born.

The idea is succinct in principle, although implementation & reporting has differed over time: (1) the first bottom line is People. It aims to measure the societal impact of a business in its environment, be it education, wages, self-image, independence, etc. (2) The second bottom line is that of planet. This bottom line often includes both inputs & outputs, to give a view of the natural resource usage of the business, plus the environmental impact it has by operating, selling services/products and buying from certain suppliers. (3) Lastly the familiar bottom line of profit remains, it of course is the lifeblood of most business models and is critical in understanding if things sustainable considering all things, including 1+2.

My enjoyment of the triple bottom line is twofold: Firstly it is an easy model to remember & construct arguments and ideas around. Secondly, it is practical and can be implemented to various degrees – which allows different business situations to adopt it.


Last but not least, on today’s term list is that of sustainability. Now, while the word is simple, the scope of impact in a business can be enormous.

Sustainability speaks to how the agreeable carry power of our situation as humankind is adhered to or ignored (in societies, nature & business models). It speaks not only about once off great gestures, but to taking up a longer term view to consider the impact of present decisions on future situations.

Principle & practice

The above is a short list of three key concepts that have started to articulate what business could look like as a source for good. Or has it?

What time shows us is that ideas develop and leapfrog themselves and others unexpectedly. Even with the above we can already see clear differences in the feeling generated by each item.

Which is why I firmly believe in the principle over the practice. I believe in articulating a clear direction around this theme. One that addresses the time horizon, the triple bottom line areas to be considered, the ownership of responsibility in the operational running of a business and also the awareness of environmental problems globally, which impact everyone on the planet.

What a principle provides if articulated in this way, is a clear guidance when practical applications struggle. It allows decisions to be made in the context of a principle before compromises & pressures erode the real value or impact of ideas.

And what would you say when asked what these terms mean? Let me know your thoughts in global nature terrors in the comments (example 3 earthquakes recently across Asia).


This is part of my A to Z Challenge 2016, click the button at the bottom of the site for more information if you like.

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