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ERA's Environmental Compliance Management Blog

Sustainability management system: The Triple Bottom Line

Posted by Alex Chamberlain

Alex Chamberlain is a writer for ERA Environmental Management Solutions.

Incorporating sustainability into your corporate strategy can raise a lot of questions:

  • How do you measure sustainability?
  • How do you make sustainability work for your business?
  • How do you define sustainability for your corporation?

The Triple Bottom Line is one of the main systems being used by businesses to assess the profits they are making through their corporate sustainability solutions. The Triple Bottom Line method asks you to see beyond the traditional bottom line of business to the profits that your business makes socially, environmentally, and economically. Measuring your business using the Triple Bottom Line is one of the best markers of how sustainable your business is, and how profitable it really is.

Sustainability solution Triple Bottom Line

Social Sustainability

The Social bottom line measures your business’ profits in human capital, including your position within your local society. Your social bottom line is increased by having fair and beneficial labour practices and through corporate community involvement. After all, if your business is not nurturing positive relationships with your community, your client base and employee pool shrinks accordingly. The social bottom line questions the belief that the less a business pays its work force the longer it can afford to operate. Instead, the social bottom line measures the long-term sustainability of business human capital, with the understanding that a business that is also a desirable workplace will always be able to operate. Essentially, corporate interests and labour interests are seen as interdependent.

Like most subjective public relations efforts or intangible benefits, your social bottom line can be difficult to measure. However the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) has developed guidelines to enable businesses to report and measure their social impact.     

Environmental Sustainability

The Triple Bottom Line approach to sustainability takes the view that the less impact your business has on the environment and the fewer natural resources you consume, the longer and more successful your business will be. Controlling your Environmental bottom line means managing, monitoring, and reporting your consumption and waste and emissions. This is typically the work of your EHS department, though most sustainable business models also make waste reduction and green policies corporate-wide values across all levels of management. A sustainability committee is usually required to communicate your sustainability solution to all departments.

Measuring and reporting your environmental bottom line is certainly possible, though depending on the size of your business, it can be a time-consuming and difficult process. However, EHS or corporate sustainability software can make the process much quicker and cost effective.

Economic Sustainability

In the Triple Bottom Line approach, economic sustainability is not simply your traditional corporate capital in addition to your environmental and human capital. Your economic capital must be measured in terms of how much of an impact your business has on its economic environment. The business that strengthens the economy it is part of is one that will continue to succeed in the future. Of course, a business needs to be aware of its traditional profits as well, and the Triple Bottom Line accounts for this as well.

By using the Triple Bottom Line method, your business can expand how it understands its position in the economy and its ability to survive in the future. Corporate sustainability measures your ability to be in business indefinitely, based on your impact on the environment, your relationship to your community, and contribution to your economy. Unlike the traditional method, the Triple Bottom Line allows you to see your business as a social and environmental entity and measure it along these parameters.

You can learn much more about corporate sustainability by downloading ERA Environmental Consulting, Inc.’s free whitepaper “The How’s and Why’s of Sustainability”, including case studies, steps to help you implement a sustainability program, and information to help you get the executive buy-in you need.

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ERA Environmental Alex

About the Author: Alex Chamberlain is a writer and blogger who regularly contributes to ERA Environmental Management Solutions' blog. You can find Alex on Google+LinkedIn & ERA's Environmental Compliance Blog