What’s the bottom line? Literally speaking, it’s the last entry on a business’ profit and loss statement, what’s left over when you add up all the revenue and subtract expenses. The bottom line is such a fundamental part of business that it’s crossed over into everyday language: when you want someone to get to the point, you ask for the bottom line.
But what if the old bottom line isn’t the whole story? In 1994, corporate responsibility and sustainability expert John Elkington coined the term Triple Bottom Line, sometimes abbreviated TBL or 3BL. The idea is to complement the traditional economic bottom line with two other measurements—social and environmental bottom lines.
The concept is sometimes explained with three P’s: People, Planet, and Profit. Businesses that follow the Triple Bottom Line approach know that it isn’t enough just to come out in the black in terms of dollars and cents. We need to make sure our operations have a net positive impact on people (our customers, employees, and the public at large) and the planet, too.
The Triple Bottom Line isn’t about sacrificing profit so we can be “green” or perceived as a “good” company. When you do it right, the People, Planet, and Profit motives work together, not against each other. FULL’s move from a centralized call center to a distributed model is one example. Doing business this way is better for people, who get less stress and more free time without commutes. It’s better for the planet, keeping tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. And it’s better for the company’s balance sheet, because we don’t have to maintain a huge building to house everyone.
Doing People, Planet and Profit right is a win-win-win. Our goal for 2015 and beyond is to keep all three bottom lines positive.