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As consumers become more aware about the economical, social, environmental impact of businesses on their lives, they have started demanding more from the companies and organizations in terms of a better social, economic, environmental structure that does not compromise their lives. Sensing the change in the business environment and consumer focus, John Elkington explained the concept of triple bottom line (TBL) in his book "Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business" published in the year 1997.
Since then the scale and scope of the triple bottom line has increased dramatically and each angle of the Triple Bottom Line is divisible into multiple TBLs that is nothing but combination of several factors and how they influence the lives of the people locally, nationally and internationally. It is becoming increasingly important for businesses to engage not only with their customers or suppliers but also with the people around. This can be possible only when a company moves from a singular view of bottom-line i.e. profits alone to a multi-dimensional view of triple bottom-line that incorporates social, economical as well as the environmental aspect in business strategy and reporting.
Triple Bottom Line Concept:
A TBL does not mean 'No Profit' but it does mean 'profit and something greater' that will include the people and the planet in the broader sense The TBL concept is an approach that expresses the impact of a business and its sustainability on a local and global scale. 
The triple bottom line comprises of "social, economic & environmental". There is also another popular phrase i.e. "people, planet and profit" coined for Shell by Sustainability, which derived influence from the 20th century urbanist Patrick Geddes's concept of 'folk, work and place'.
We shall now try to understand about each of the three pillars of the Triple Bottom Line concept that alone may not be beneficial to everyone but when combined with other two pillars of the TBL will lead to a mutually beneficial proposition to the businesses the people and all the stakeholders that will include the government as well.
Pillar 1: Social
The first pillar of TBL relates to the social aspect of businesses. The social aspect includes the employees, the customers and the local people where the business operates. In terms of the employees, the businesses have started understanding that employees are no longer just people working in the company for wages/ salary but they are now the social face of the business that needs requires to be managed properly to attain trust and create a positive image in the marketplace. Employers can no longer treat employees as manual machines and they do understand it well.
Today the employers are increasingly engaging, and that too with keen interest and not out of compulsion, with their employees in terms of all round development as a social citizen representing the business and themselves. Businesses are making their workplaces more employee-friendly and are offering various facilities for self-development to uplift the confidence and social status of their employees. Apart from focussing on the employees, the businesses worldwide understand that the local person where the business operates is critical for the success of the business. If you do not win the trust of the people then it will harm the business. Sometimes companies ignore local population that has eventually led to more trouble for the company even though they may not be the customers, but they can influence the customers by the negative image they create of the company.
In simple terms, a TBL business will not use child labour, pay fair salaries and wages to its workers, maintain a safe & healthy work environment including tolerable working hours and prevent from exploiting the local community or the labour force. A TBL active business is also likely to "give back" by contributing for the strength and growth of its community in areas of health care and education. Quantification of this bottom line is relatively new and often subjective. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) has elaborate guidelines that enable corporation and NGOs to report on the social impact of a business.
Pillar 2: Environmental
The environmental aspect in TBL is critical in the current era where the focus is on saving the planet and reducing carbon emissions. TBL approach encourages company to utilize the natural resources in an efficient manner that has a mechanism to replenish the resources without causing any adverse impact on the ecology. TBL calls for businesses to take a pro-active approach in preservation of the environment and look for alternative sources or technology. The businesses are now looking at 'cradle to grave' approach that makes them responsible for their products and the ecological damage that it causes starting from the raw material extraction or processing to until after the customer uses it. A good example would be HP setting up collection centres for its printer cartridges that it recycles. Even Wal-Mart has moved away from multiple packaging of the products and moved to simple packages that help in reduction of wastes. Still the percent of businesses that truly practise this aspect of TBL is very less. However, there is a positive side to it as customers are now turning 'Green' which has forced many companies to change their strategy in respect of the environment.
Another good example of how even services companies, that are not often viewed as a cause of pollution, are doing their bit for conserving environment (even though it is much more of the economical aspect). Banks for instance have moved away from traditional branch banking and moving towards e-banking reducing the use of paper in all the transactions. It also makes economical sense as it leads to saving of tons of paper i.e. less cutting of trees. In addition, printer cartridges use in banks has declined. The customers on the other hand are happy as they can comfortably do their banking activities and some banks are giving incentives to customers by reducing banking charges for turning to e banking also popularly referred to as 'Green Banking'.
Pillar 3: Economic
The economic aspect of TBL is the most critical for the business as it is the original bottom line. However, the economic aspect is vast and profit is just a small part. In this the profit of not only the company but also of all the stakeholders including the employees, local community is considered. It differs from traditional aspect of accounting where 2 + 2 = 4 but seeks to make 2 + 2 = 5, which includes the value the company creates to the society, whatever way it does it.
The economic aspect has links to other two pillars i.e. social and environmental, being a major force that can help drive the other two aspects as companies would strive to create wealth for its shareholders.
In fact, all three pillars are inter-related as in the long-run only businesses that are socially and environmentally sustainable can create economic benefits both for the company and the other stakeholders and can lead to a win-win situation as described earlier.
The following chart sums up the main message of the triple bottom line concept:
It is the intersection of the three pillars of Triple Bottom Line, which creates a common ground for a sustainable future for the business and the society.
Case Study - ITC'S TRIPLE BOTTOM LINE
Despite of high volatility in the financial, commodity and consumer market, ITC was able to maintain a stable performance boosting the cost competitiveness and cushion the impact of the economic slowdown. There has been a plunge of the gross turnover to grow by 8.4% whereas the net turnover increased by 10.3%.and finally the post tax operations reaching the growth of 4.6% totalling Rs. 3264 crores.
ITC's contribution to as a creator of wealth in the private sector has been remarkable owing to its unique business models, corporate strategies, governance philosophy of trusteeship and the economic value created by it. It has contributed by supporting the livelihoods of 26 thousand people through direct employment and over 50 lakhs through business and social initiatives.
The company has put enormous efforts in aligning the stakeholders through
ITC has been seeking to adopt technologies and services to minimise carbon emission and reduce the consumption of fresh water. It has taken numerous steps towards environment sustainability
Identify 'climate change' risks in various ITC businesses and implement mitigation/ adaptation measures.
Improve competitive advantage through innovations in products, technologies and leveraging opportunities offered by CDM projects.
Minimise ITC's GHG emissions through:
Achieving minimum specific energy consumption in each business
Maximising their renewable energy portfolio
Enlarge our Carbon Positive footprint.
Strategy 1 - Climate change, risk management
ITC has taken numerous initiatives to mitigate risk associated with the climatic change. some of them include. Climate change and agriculture:
As majority of the raw materials utilised by ITC are agro-based products. Its R&D specialists are collaborating with expert study groups and examining agricultural productivity/adaptation issues related to climate change. Its water conservation, watershed development and rainwater harvesting projects contribute significantly in improving the sustainability of our agro-related businesses.
Coastal Vulnerability as many of ITC's plants and a hotel is in the coastal region. Therefore, it has taken a number of steps to prevent any damage due to the climatic irregularities.
Minimising carbon intensity - Implementation of advanced technology has contributed to ITC's business to achieve significant reductions in energy consumption and minimising carbon footprint in different product lines.
Strategy 2 - New products, technologies and CDM projects:
Environment friendly, excellent paper and paperboards:
ITC used technologies like Ozone bleaching to manufacture Elemental chlorine free pulp, paper and paperboards in India. It has been marketing this product under the title of the 'Greenest Paper' to its customers including products like Classmate notebooks and paperkraft - premium business papers.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chose the LEED Platinum rated ITC Green Centre to announce a vision for Indo-US collaboration on climate change.
Labour practices and decent work
The HRM of ITC created a responsive, customer-centric and market focussed culture that enhances organisational capability and vitality. The total direct employment count was 26,200 as the recent figures where-as the indirect number has crossed over 5 million. Employees in ITC strive together to enhance productivity, quality and deliver effectiveness. Indirect employment encompasses the supply and distribution network, agro-sourcing, social and farm forestry, e-chaupals, women's empowerment and micro-enterprises and livestock development.
Occupational health and safety
Units established by ITC have implemented best in class infrastructure, state of art fire detection and protection systems and the latest electrical equipment so that there is no compromise on safety.
ITC has conducted more than 102 awareness programmes that included 4700 employees to curb the epidemic.
Other steps in work-culture development include:
Prevention of discrimination at the work place
Freedom of association
Prohibiting child labour and preventing forced labour at work place
Diversity and equal opportunity