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The Weekender: Creator of Triple Bottom Line Pulls it From the Shelves

The Weekender features a longer form publication or multimedia production from a reputable source. We select articles or things to watch or listen to that discuss issues and opportunities we deem just off the radar for many business people, students, and faculty. We aim to expand the mind, broaden the heart, and sharpen the analysis. Have a great weekend!

My notes:

In the 1990s, I read John Elkington's famous Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business. That book and Paul Hawken's Ecology of Commerce plus my experiences around the world seeing environmental devastation and poverty and inequality, changed me forever. Business could indeed be a force for good, and had to be.

Elkington coined the term "triple bottom line" suggesting business didn't just have an economic obligation, but a social and environmental one as well. The phrase spread like a thousand dandelions scattered in the wind. It has become business parlance. Interesting then that Elkington recently has "recalled" his creation, much like a manufacturer would recall a car or phone. As he states in the HBR article featured this week, the triple bottom line concept has not created the wholesale reinvention of business he intended. It has become a watered down version of its former self. Indeed, Elkington states, "none of these sustainability frameworks will be enough, as long as they lack the suitable pace and scale — the necessary radical intent — needed to stop us all overshooting our planetary boundaries."

And he has some novel ideas for taking TBL to the next level. Enjoy!

25 Years Ago I Coined the Phrase “Triple Bottom Line.” Here’s Why It’s Time to Rethink It (by John Elkington, Harvard Business Review)

"If an industrial product like a car fails the manufacturer pulls it back, tests it and, if necessary, re-equips it. In case manufacturers grow careless, governments run periodic road safety tests. Management concepts, by contrast, operate in poorly regulated environments where failures are often brushed under boardroom or faculty carpets. Yet poor management systems can jeopardize lives in the air, at sea, on roads or in hospitals. They can also put entire businesses and sectors at risk.

With this in mind, I’m volunteering to carry out a management concept recall: with 2019 marking the 25th anniversary of the 'triple bottom line,' a term I coined in 1994, I propose a strategic recall to do some fine tuning."

Read full article at HBR (8-1o minute read)

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