The Triple Bottom Line

Marketing as a function all too often has little influence at Board level because those involved are accused of looking only at the “soft and fuzzies” and of being incapable of understanding the true needs of the business – to put it crudely, the dosh, the cash, the money… the bottom line. In no single field has this been more true than in the promotion of CSR and socially responsible behaviour which is now very important for many clients when choosing what company to buy from. Most companies at best have in the past nodded politely and agreed to do a bit of “greenwashing” without committing to any substantial change and at worse shook their heads and said sternly that “the business of business is business” and refused to hear any more.

All that will have to change. It has already started to change.

The average customer has become so much more ethically, socially and environmentally aware that any business which chooses to ignore the theme of sustainability does so at its peril. So much so that some which bury their heads in the sand while competitors get on with it may sustain serious damage in the form of strategic wearout as customers vote with their feet and choose the sustainable option.

This means that the bottom line is affected, sometimes seriously.

This is where marketing as a function comes in. Marketing is the function closest to the customer and is best placed to understand exactly what clients are looking for in terms of sustainability. Once this has been established, it is marketing which must present these needs to the company in a way that can be understood by all stakeholders, and one of the best ways of doing this was created in 1994 by John Elkington when he coined the phrase triple bottom line to demonstrate three important results that a company must pay attention to.  These results are now
very much interlinked:

– 1. Profit, the traditional financial bottom line
-2. People, how employees and other “human” stakeholders are affected by company activity and
-3. Planet, how sustainable activities are environmentally speaking

These 3 ps, once they have been discussed and implementation of improvements has been committed to, are then reported by marketing back to the customers. Be very aware that commitments must be honoured – accusations of greenwashing can seriously damage a company’s reputation.

Inclusion of the Profit line proves to the company that marketing does understand the need to profit. The model also allows us to demonstrate the impact the OTHER two lines have on the first in the medium to long term.

This means that right now we have a fantastic opportunity to do something for the planet while improving the reputation of our profession. Sounds good to me…


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