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Chapter 1 Enter the Triple Bottom Line John Elkington In 1994, the author coined the term triple bottom line . He reflects on what got him to that point, what has happened since – and where the agenda may now be headed. The late 1990s saw the term ‘triple bottom line’ take off. Based on the results of a survey of international experts in corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainable development (SD), Figure 1.1 spotlights the growth trend over the two years from 1999 to 2001. As originator of the term, I have often been asked how it was conceived and born. As far as I can remember – and memory is a notoriously fallible thing – there was no single eureka! moment. Instead, in 1994 we had been looking for new language to express what we saw as an inevitable expansion of the environmental agenda that SustainAbility (founded in 1987) had mainly focused upon to that point. We felt that the social and economic dimensions of the agenda – which had already been flagged in 1987’s Brundtland Report (UNWCED, 1987) – would have to be addressed in a more integrated way if real environmental progress was to be made. Because SustainAbility mainly works, by choice, with business, we felt that the language would have to resonate with business brains. By way of background, I had already coined several other terms that had gone into the language, including ‘environmental excellence’ (1984) and ‘green consumer’ (1986). The first was targeted at business professionals in the wake of 1982’s best-selling management book In Search of Excellence (Peters and Waterman, 1982), which failed to mention the environment even once. The aim of the second was to help mobilize consumers to put pressure on business about environmental issues. This cause was aided enormously by the runaway success of our book The Green Consumer Guide , which sold nearly 1 million copies in its various editions (Elkington and Hailes, 1988). ES_TBL_7/1 17/8/04 7:40 pm Page 1
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But back to the triple bottom line (often abbreviated to TBL). Like Paul McCartney waking up with Yesterday playing in his brain and initially believing that he was humming someone else’s tune, when the three words finally came to me I was totally convinced that someone must have used them before. But an extensive search suggested otherwise. The next step was whether we should take steps to trademark or otherwise protect the language, as most mainstream consultancies would have done. Counter-intuitively, perhaps, we decided to do exactly the reverse, ensuring that no one could protect it. We began using the term in public, with early launch platforms, including an article in the California Management Review on ‘win–win–win’ business strategies (Elkington, 1994), SustainAbility’s 1996 report Engaging Stakeholders and my 1997 book Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business (Elkington, 1997). In 1995, we also developed the 3P formulation, ‘people, planet and profits’, later adopted by Shell for its first Shell Report and now widely used in The Netherlands as the 3Ps.
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  • Summer '17
  • Saw lip chit
  • John Elkington

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