November 27, 2008

The triple bottom line: Am I a plundering business or a compassionate one?

Some friends and I spent last Sunday, snowed in and hung-over. So what did we do? We piled in a gigantic king sized bed, made snacks and watched The Corporation from an overhead projector.

I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen this amazing movie before. I mean it didn’t tell me a lot that I didn’t already know but it helped solidify my fears of multinational corporations destroying our earth and it’s citizens.

The Corporation focuses on big businesses (owned by shareholders) that give themselves status as a legal “person” therefore giving the business the legal ability to act and defend as a person would. The film asks “What kind of person is it?”

I was really inspired by one particular individual named Ray Anderson.
Ray is the CEO of Interface, the world’s largest carpet manufacturer. With a little help from his employees, he had an epiphany one day.  Ray actually woke up and saw the harm that his business was causing and instead of quitting and going to live on a deserted island in the South Pacific (not a terrible choice for all the Exxon-Mobiles of the world) he decided to do something about it. He realized that he could manage to be an ethically sustainable business and still get to be the leader in carpets.

“We’ll spend the rest of our days harvesting yesteryear’s carpets and recycling them… with zero scrap going to the landfill… that’s the vision.”

Mr. Anderson is a very smart man because he listened, he learned and he acted. How many big businesses will finally understand that the road to success is marked with compassionate innovation and that karma really does play a role when it comes to the bottom line.  When I think of the bottom line, as a business owner, I think profits immediately. I mean… I have to.  But as soon as I have thought about those profits I think how can I get there and help as many people along the way? How can I decrease my footprint and still make money? I care about the impact I make as an individual so why wouldn’t I care about it as a business?

The other day I was speaking with a woman who is doing her thesis on sustainable business practice by focusing on something called “the triple bottom line”.

“The triple bottom line” is a business model of sustainability that balances economic/profitability, social engagement/responsibility & environmental sustainability.  Advocates of the “triple bottom line” paradigm encourage managers to think in terms of not just the financial bottom line, but in terms of two additional “bottom lines,” namely the so-called “social bottom line” and “environmental bottom line.”

The model guides the business to seek out it’s own ingenuity and wealth by the form of energy usage and raw materials efficiencies, employee and customer value process improvements and enhancing human potential.

Research shows that corporate social responsibility practices not only help improve society but they also benefit the companies by adding value to their relationships with customers, employees, shareholders, their boards of directors and other firms. There are still some skeptics out there but I think if Ray Anderson can do it, anyone can.

How can I get involved?

Watch a bit of The Corporation here…

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