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For years the “bottom line” has referred to monetary profit. However, over the last few decades, environmentalists and social justice proponents have been advocating for a broader definition: the triple bottom line (TBL or 3BL). This adds two more “bottom lines” to the financial one we all know so well: social and environmental.
The belief is this. Companies should focus as much on social and environmental concerns as they do on monetary profits. To get there, companies need to work inside a sustainability framework – also referred to as the 3Ps: people, planet and profit. In other words, the triple bottom line is all about gauging a company’s level of commitment to corporate responsibility.
Striving for the personal bottom line
As I see it, the big problem with triple bottom line is that there are relatively few who can make the decision to steer an organization. It’s hard to have influence in a multinational corporation. Hell, it’s hard to have influence in a 100-person organization. So, how can us non-corporate climbers participate in TBL even when our companies don’t? One answer lies in what Sustainable Brands considers a new way of measuring success: the “personal bottom line” (PBL) of insight, impact and income.
All change starts with insight; you cannot fix a problem unless you’re aware of it. Gaining insight starts with learning and critical thinking, and results in changes in behavior. For example, once you learn that your car degrades the quality of the air you breathe, the greater the possibility your next car will be electric. Similarly, once you gain insight into the dangerous effects of sitting at your desk all day, the more apt you are to go for a walk at lunch or alternate your position throughout the day.
Making an impact
Impact is the change you bring about in your lifetime. As a manager, creating an impact isn’t difficult. If you mentor your employees to show other departments compassion and respect, you will have had a positive impact. If you drive your employees so hard that they miss important milestones in their children’s lives, you will have had a negative impact.
But what if you’re just you? Positive impact can be as small as taking a few minutes to talk with the nervous new guy in Finance or sending your supplier a Christmas gift (instead of the other way around). Negative impact can be refusing to recycle, or exposing someone’s mistake on a widely distributed email. You can make someone’s day or break it. It all makes a difference and it all adds up.
Reevaluating the importance of income
To date, income has been the single most important criteria used by people to measure their success and that of others. And while financial independence and emergency savings is critical, income does not have to be the focus of your life. In days gone by, people used to contribute 10 percent of their savings to their church or favorite charity. That would be a stretch for many people today but taking this step need not be a radical change. It may simply involve contributing a few bucks to United Way or supporting your colleague who has chosen to be a farmer instead of using his engineering degree. (True story.)
Influencers aren’t just on TikTok
If you are in a position of influencing organizational direction, you have a tremendous opportunity to affect change. Businesses that use social and environmental challenges as drivers of innovation, value creation, and positive impact for their company are increasingly rewarded. Companies that fail to engage at this new level are at a growing disadvantage as time goes on.
And while it’s easy to believe that leaders are uniquely positioned to affect change, there are many things we can do as individuals. Subtle shifts in our behavior to colleagues and suppliers can start a chain reaction and make a real difference in people’s daily lives.