In 1994 John Elkington coined the term, “Triple Bottom Line” (TBL). He has written that he was looking for a new language to express the expansion of the environmental agenda that his company SustainAbility had been focused on. John felt that the social and economic dimensions that had been presented in the Brundltland Report needed to be addressed by his firm in order to affect real change.
TBL framework allows an organization to focus on not only the economic value they create, but also on the social and environmental value they create or decrease.
The Triple Bottom Line is often referred to as a three legged stool. Meaning an organization sits on top of the three legs, only if they remain equally balanced.
Ray Anderson, the founder and chairman of Interface Inc. has another description that he uses.
I like the image of a three-stage rocket. The payload for the rocket is the profits. We’re talking about a better way to make bigger profits. But to do it in the absolute legitimate way that’s not at the expense of the Earth and not at the expense of future generations, but at the expense of the competitor, the inefficient adaptor who just doesn’t get it.
“Sherpa for Sustainability.” Sustainable Industries July 2009: 15-16
In 2006, after over 20 years of hands-on experience assisting corporations to become leaders in sustainability, environmental performance, measurement and reporting Andy Savitz released his book The Triple Bottom Line. Within his book Andy lays out how a company can utilize the Triple Bottom Line in its sustainability efforts in order to determine how best to serve the people, the planet and profits.
Andy writes that the Triple Bottom Line exists as a kind of balanced scorecard that captures in numbers and words the degree to which a company is or is not creating value for its shareholders and for society.
He also eloquently describes Sustainability:
Sustainability is not simply a matter of good corporate citizenship. Nor is it merely a matter of business ethics. Sustainability is now a fundamental principle of smart management, one that’s all too easy to overlook or take for granted in a world where the financial bottom line is often treated as the only measure of success.
Savitz, Andrew W. and Karl Weber. The Triple Bottom Line. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006