The Triple Bottom Line.docx - The Triple Bottom Line What...

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The Triple Bottom Line: What Is It and How Does It Work? Timothy F. Slaper, Ph.D. Director of Economic Analysis, Indiana Business Research Center, Indiana University Kelley School of Business Tanya J. Hall Economic Research Analyst, Indiana Business Research Center, Indiana University Kelley School of Business Sustainability has been an often mentioned goal of businesses, non-profits and governments in the past decade, yet measuring the degree to which an organization is being sustainable or pursuing sustainable growth can be difficult. John Elkington strove to measure sustainability during the mid-1990s by encompassing a new framework to measure performance in corporate America. 1 This accounting framework, called the triple bottom line (TBL), went beyond the traditional measures of profits, return on investment, and shareholder value to include environmental and social dimensions. By focusing on comprehensive investment results—that is, with respect to performance along the interrelated dimensions of profits, people and the planet—triple bottom line reporting can be an important tool to support sustainability goals. Interest in triple bottom line accounting has been growing across for-profit, non-profit and government sectors. Many businesses and non-profit organizations have adopted the TBL sustainability framework to evaluate their performance, and a similar approach has gained currency with governments at the federal, state and local levels. This article reviews the TBL concept, explains how it can be useful for businesses, policy- makers and economic development practitioners and highlights some current examples of putting the TBL into practice. The Triple Bottom Line Defined The TBL is an accounting framework that incorporates three dimensions of performance: social, environmental and financial. This differs from traditional reporting frameworks as it includes ecological (or environmental) and social measures that can be difficult to assign appropriate means of measurement. The TBL dimensions are also commonly called the three Ps: people, planet and profits . We will refer to these as the 3Ps. Well before Elkington introduced the sustainability concept as "triple bottom line," environmentalists wrestled with measures of, and frameworks for, sustainability. Academic disciplines organized around sustainability have multiplied over the last 30 years. People inside and outside academia who have studied and practiced sustainability would agree with
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the general definition of Andrew Savitz for TBL. The TBL "captures the essence of sustainability by measuring the impact of an organization's activities on the world ... including both its profitability and shareholder values and its social, human and environmental capital.
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