Ask a dozen people to describe a sustainable business, and you will no doubt get a variety of answers.
An investor or shareholder might describe it as an established business with regular, uninterrupted profits. A student may point to an organisation’s commitment to zero out its environmental impact. How would you describe it?
I guess both views are correct, with the focus of one on money and the other on the environment. I would always add in ‘people’ and collectively the three make up what is often referred to as the triple bottom line (TBL) or 3BL, or the three pillars.
Triple Bottom Line
Specifically, triple bottom line refers to ‘profit, planet, people’, and it is a term often associated with companies and organisations that are actively engaged in eco-friendly policies or community outreach. However, it is much more than this.
There is now a growing body of evidence showing that managing an organisation or a business an altruistic bent offers considerable strategic advantages. However, they are not the kind of benefits that typically show up instantly in financial accounts. .
Let me give you a couple of practical examples. When a new business start-up embraces triple bottom line principles into its mission, and makes that mission widely known, what it is doing will matter to a niche in the market, whether it’s eco-friendly practices or a commitment to support and give back to the community. Ideally, that niche could sustain a new business through those lean first years until it reaches a bigger audience and scale.
In the case of Rhino Foods, the manufacturer of the cookie dough for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, they make a point of hiring recent legal immigrants to work in its plant to help get them established in their new country. However, Rhino Foods soon experienced problems with workers getting to work on time, or at all, and it was having an affect upon the company’s bottom line.
On investigation, Rhino found that worker’s cars would break down, or they did not have a reliable ride to the factory. After looking into the issue, the company found that many of its immigrant workers did not have a credit and they were unable to secure a loan or get a credit card to help pay for a car or repairs; they had difficulty signing a lease on a home closer to their workplace.
Rhino arranged via its bank for a guaranteed $1,000 line of credit for every employee. This subsequently lead to the setting up of Rhino’s Income Advance Program, designed to help staff deal with financial hardships or emergencies that arise. Within months, two hundred employees took the offer and amazingly not a single employee has ever defaulted. Now Rhino has an extremely loyal work force that shows up on time – and the incredible thing is that it has not cost the company a penny.
So how does Exponential embrace the triple bottom line? We have changed our business model from a traditional training delivery business where we travelled 50,000 miles annually to a model that now delivers most of our services on-line – we are making money, developing our own team and achieving more than ever before.
We play a role in our local community. We undertake pro bono work for not for profit organisations; we deliver wellness programmes for local people; we mentor students at local schools; and we offer quality work experience opportunities for young people. Does everything hit the bottom-line? No, but we sleep soundly, enjoy what we do and have a healthy business!
Adapted from: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/225948