It is time to move on from theTriple Bottom Line …

It is time to move on from theTriple Bottom Line …

We have become very familiar with the Triple Bottom Line approach for Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility, ie Environment, Society and Economic. It forms the basis of many environmental and sustainability visions, policy statements, and development initiatives.

In the business arena, this is the acknowledged responsible ‘bottom line’ of meeting economic goals (usually profit) whilst also meeting environmental (impact) and social (community) goals in carrying out business activities. The triple bottom line approach provides a practical framework for the development of policies and strategies to drive institutional change.

roots coyo triple bottom line

Triple Bottom Line as drawn by COYO students

And of course we are now familiar with the well used triple bottom line venn diagram. If like me you loved Venn Diagrams at school, then its a real pleasure to see such vital and complex issues such s sustainability expressed as three interwoven circles. The Triple Bottom Line has also been represented as a three legged stool or as three columns.

As mentioned previously on this blog, this triple bottom line thinking can be traced back to Patrick Geddes who, now recognised as the Grandfather of Town and Country Planning coined the triptych Place, Folk and Work. Its current concept however is credited to John Elkington in his 1998 book Cannibals with Forks:Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business.

Whilst we can easily identify Geddes’ Place as being the Environment circle, (note, interestingly the Living Building Challenge renamed its Site Petal as Place for version 3), the Work aspect is readily identified as the Economy circle, there is an uneasy fit with people or folk within the Society circle. Are staff part of society, and where do the governance arrangements of a business (including vital for sustainability ISO 9001 related quality and organisational arrangements / controls) fit into the sustainability three circles?

Quad Bottom Line

Quadruple Bottom Line introduces Governance as the fourth ‘Petal’

The Quadruple Bottom Line introduces Governance as the fourth bottom line, or perhaps better, as Culture

Governance, or Culture is defined here as including both the formal business, administrative and ‘control’ processes of an organisation, as well as the informal networks, traditions and cultural and behavioural norms which act as enablers or disablers of sustainable development.

Sustainability governance therefore could include those organisational items that are increasingly seen as the vital enablers for sustainable development – many of which are embedded within the modern sustainability building programmes such as the Living Building Challenge, JUST, or Well Building Standard, including:
Diversity
Equity
Fairpay
Education
Collaborative Working
Working Places
Biophilia
Health and Wellbeing
Happiness
Communications and social media

This new, fourth leaf on the sustainability venn diagram, raises both important questions and huge opportunities for advancing sustainability development, and could usher in a new generation of sustainability thinking.

For example, what are the ‘governance’ issues of construction site facilities, welfare and administration that enable sustainable construction … more

Extract from forthcoming FutuREstotative

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2 Responses to It is time to move on from theTriple Bottom Line …

  1. Neil swift says:

    Martin,

    Get the point but aren’t all those covered under the three anyway most under social.
    Merit in keeping it simple? Three is the magic number!

    Good post again!
    Thanks

    Like

    • martin brown says:

      Thanks for the comment Neil, appreciated, yes of course they should be included in social, but often not! What I like with the Quadruple approach is that (Cultural or Governance) issues are rightly given higher significance – and it is these that are the enablers or barriers to sustainable progress.

      Like

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