What is the Triple Bottom Line?

4 Minutes
Businesses can not only improve their own sustainability practices but also contribute to broader social and environmental goals.

The Triple Bottom Line (TBL) framework, introduced by John Elkington in 1997, has been widely adopted across various industries as a means to measure a company's performance across three dimensions: people, planet, and profit. This framework aims to create a more holistic approach to assessing a company's impact and performance, going beyond the traditional financial metrics.

Beyond People, Profit, and Planet

While the TBL framework provides a structured approach to evaluating a company's performance across economic, social, and environmental dimensions, the actual narratives and practices of entrepreneurs and businesses can be more complex and nuanced. A study by Muñoz and Cohen delves into the narratives employed by sustainable entrepreneurs, exploring how they perceive and enact sustainability in their ventures. The study argues that sustainable entrepreneurship has been traditionally studied through the lens of the TBL, but the narratives of entrepreneurs are more complex. The authors propose a more nuanced understanding of how entrepreneurs experience and enact sustainability, beyond just economic, environmental, and social outcomes.

While the TBL is useful for understanding how businesses can operate more sustainably, it doesn't necessarily capture the human element of entrepreneurship. The study mentioned highlights how the narratives of entrepreneurs can include things like spirituality, personal fulfilment, and social transformation. For many entrepreneurs, sustainability is not just about balancing profit, people, and planet, but also about pursuing something that is deeply meaningful and fulfilling. This adds a level of complexity and richness to the concept of sustainable entrepreneurship.

Application in the Hospitality Industry

The hospitality industry serves as a case study for the application of the TBL and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) principles. A study by Mattera and Melgarejo focuses on the approach of two major Spanish hotel corporations, NH Hotels and Meliá Hotels International, to CSR. Both companies are significant players in the hotel industry, with economic interests spread across 39 different countries. They are part of the United Nations' Global Compact strategic policy initiative for businesses, which means they are committed to aligning their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment, and anti-corruption. Furthermore, both companies comply with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), a non-profit organisation promoting sustainability that provides a comprehensive framework for sustainability reporting across economic, environmental, and social lines.

The study aims to shed light on the strategic implications of CSR for the hotel industry by examining the practices of these two companies. It is part of a broader discussion on the role of firms in their socio-economic and environmental context, and the belief that acting as a responsible organisation leads to profitability and good business. This is particularly relevant in the tourism industry, which has significant environmental, socio-economic, and cultural impacts.

Intersection with Corporate Social Responsibility

CSR is a broad concept that encompasses a wide range of issues, including human rights, labour, and the environment. It provides a framework for businesses to conduct themselves in a socially responsible and ethical manner. While it doesn't always directly align with the TBL's "people, planet, profit" framework, it can be seen as an extension of those principles. Essentially, CSR helps companies operationalise the TBL's "people, planet, profit" goals.

Moreover, the accountability and measurement aspect is crucial. One of the criticisms of the TBL framework is the difficulty in measuring and reporting on the environmental and social impacts of a business. CSR helps address this by providing guidelines and standards for measuring and reporting on these impacts. For example, both NH Hotels and Meliá Hotels International are part of the United Nations' Global Compact strategic policy initiative and comply with the GRI, which provides a comprehensive framework for sustainability reporting across economic, environmental, and social lines.

This level of transparency and accountability helps ensure that the companies are living up to their commitment to sustainability. It also provides a model that other companies can follow to improve their own sustainability practices and minimise their negative social and environmental impacts.

Conclusion

The Triple Bottom Line (TBL) framework, while a valuable tool for assessing a company's performance across economic, social, and environmental dimensions, does not capture the full complexity and nuance of sustainable entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs often pursue goals beyond just profit, people, and planet, such as personal fulfilment and social transformation.

Additionally, the implementation of TBL and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) principles in the hospitality industry, as illustrated by the practices of NH Hotels and Meliá Hotels International, demonstrates the strategic importance of acting as a responsible organisation. It not only leads to profitability and good business but also addresses significant environmental, socio-economic, and cultural impacts. However, the successful implementation of these principles requires a comprehensive approach that includes transparency, accountability, and alignment with globally accepted standards and principles, such as the United Nations' Global Compact and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI).

Ultimately, achieving sustainability in business requires a multifaceted approach that goes beyond the traditional TBL framework. It involves a deeper understanding of the motivations of entrepreneurs, a commitment to ethical and socially responsible conduct, and a robust system of measurement and accountability. By adopting such a comprehensive approach, businesses can not only improve their own sustainability practices but also contribute to broader social and environmental goals.

References

  • Muñoz, P., & Cohen, B. (2018). Entrepreneurial Narratives in Sustainable Venturing: Beyond People, Profit, and Planet.
  • Indriastuti, M., & Chariri, A. (2021). The role of green investment and corporate social responsibility investment on sustainable performance.
  • Mattera, M., & Melgarejo, A. M. (2012). Strategic implications of corporate social responsibility in hotel industry: A comparative research between NH Hotels and Meliá Hotels International. T
  • Mansell, P., Philbin, S. P., & Konstantinou, E. (2020). Redefining the Use of Sustainable Development Goals at the Organisation and Project Levels—A Survey of Engineers.

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