Embracing the Triple Bottom Line
Thoughtful problem-solving to guide more sustainable decision-making for businesses and organizations.
Article by Julie Winsel | Graphic design courtesy of Turrell Group
Triple Bottom Line (TBL) practices are not new. As the legend goes, it was first coined by John Elkington, who founded SustainAbility, a British consulting firm, in 1994. Elkington stressed the importance of three key factors for businesses and organizations to consider in their decision making:
1. People: respecting not only their employees but also the community at large by being socially responsible and conscious
2. Planet: adopting sustainable and environmentally friendly practices
3. Profit: the money, balancing value against loss
A Government Perspective
For many organizations, including the City of Eugene, this tied in perfectly when they were rethinking the City Council vision in 2010. Chelsea Clinton, City of Eugene sustainability analyst, says that the city first started looking into better sustainability practices in about 2005, evolving through community engagement to build the new Vision standards, which framed the TBL principles perfectly.
“Since our guiding body is City Council and it aligns so well with their vision, it’s just a good check,” Clinton says. “We might have our system to make sure we’re operating efficiently, but then we also want to think about how we’re serving the public and we want to do that in a way that services their needs. I think Triple Bottom Line really embodies that – the key values we hear from our community.”
Eugene and Springfield Fire Chief Joe Zaludek says adopting TBL was a natural choice. “I was exposed to the Triple Bottom Line through problem-solving,” he says. “It’s a systems approach to solving a problem. You don’t solve one problem and make three others. You try to solve them all, balance them, and it’s a better solution overall. Usually, the interest is also economic–you can save money while you’re doing it and have an optimum outcome.”
Good Business Sense
Isler CPA adopted TBL about 15 years ago. They brought in Good Company, which specializes in advising companies and organizations in TBL, setting the stage for the Isler to earn a spot as one of the 100 Best Green Workplaces in Oregon for ten years in a row.
“It’s just part of our culture now,” managing partner, Gary Iskra, says. “All the things we’re doing are just normal to us now.”
Isler CPA focuses their “people” lens on their own employees. This year, they expanded their parental leave policy and also offer support to their employees who want to take the CPA exam, providing them with the resources to study and take the exam, with a bonus if they pass within a certain time frame. Iskra says that they are currently looking into contributing to an employee’s 401K, even if they are incapable to contribute due to paying off student loans.
“Going forward, we will hopefully be able to recognize their student debt payments,” he says. “We can recognize that with our matching contribution and our 401K plan, it’s a good way to add some net worth to our employees.”
They also offer flexible work schedules, including where their employees work from. “We give each employee up to 50 hours a year to do community work, paid time, if it’s during a work day,” Iskra says. “They can be on a board or advise any organization they want. It doesn’t have to be one that we pick. It’s whatever their passion is so we’re supportive in that.”
Equity and Environment
The City looks outward when considering the “equity” principle. They are focusing a lot of their work around equity, integrating this idea into all projects and initiatives.
Clinton says the City is currently working on an Equity in Contracting program, which “exists to increase accessibility of contracting opportunities for all suppliers interested in working with the City of Eugene, with a distinct focus on increasing the number of contracts issue to small, minority, and women-owned businesses,” according to the City’s web page about this initiative.
“The way you do business reflects your values and I think it helps the Council feel like we’re being fairer and reducing barriers for how we do our day-to-day business,” Zaludek says. “The City spends a lot of money locally and I think it’s only fair to say there should be access to locally owned businesses that might want to take a shot at providing these materials or services.”
The “environment” segment of TBL for both the City and Isler CPA are similar: reduce in small ways to impact in big ways.
“We don’t have a lot of waste, but we do drink a lot of coffee,” Iskra says. “So we’re capturing all the grounds and recycling them. We have people picking up all the cans and bottles and recycling them for donations. So, [there are] small things that we can do.”
A Burning Passion
Zaludek says that the fire department started small with their sustainability practices, but have big dreams for future projects thanks to TBL.
“In the next five years, we have sixteen vehicles that we’re going to evaluate with triple bottom line thinking to meet the goals of our community, including the Climate Recovery Ordinance (CRO),” he says. “I don’t think we would’ve gotten to CRO without TBL. There’s a kind of continuum of thinking and processing on big problems where we’re trying to make a difference.”
The Climate Recovery Ordinance works to reduce community fossil fuel usage by 50 percent of 2010 levels by 2030, estimated to require an average emission reduction of 7.6 percent each year.
Zaludek says that they are looking into the possibility of a hybrid firetruck, inspired by the hybrid ambulances in Seattle.
Both the City and Isler CPA consider their travel time to reduce their carbon consumption, using the digital age to their advantage between meeting with clients, teaching classes, and delivering briefs.
“We can work anywhere in the world, so that’s been really good,” Iskra says. “It’s a bit of an expectation as a professional service provider that we have that face time with our clients. So, ratcheting [travel] back, we’re a little cautious about that, but they understand and accept it.”
Elevating the Economy
For both groups, the bottom line seems less of a breaking point when it works in tandem with the other two bottom lines.
“We obviously couldn’t sustain ourselves without profit,” Iskra says. “It’s not our key goal and I think it’s nice that when we think about our firm, we think about the three aspects generally of the TBL, so when it comes to making decisions, it’s not always ‘what’s this profit going to be to us?’ or ‘what’s the impact going to be on us financially?’ We don’t gear our decisions toward just that one aspect of our world.”
Zaludek says that it’s more important to focus on the big picture in terms of profit, rather than just what the upfront cost is going to be. “Cheaper is not a thing,” he says. “I think it’s value. And it might be a few cents more now, but the value of the life cycle is better and you get to the benefits of livability, which is what this community wants.”
Both groups recommend adopting TBL practices to other organizations because of the conversations and initiatives it inspires, but it isn’t a small step.
“10 years ago, we didn’t think about equity in our climate work, and we had to have some tough conversations on our team and say, ‘you know, it’s never going to be the right time to do this,’” Clinton says. “To implement any new system, it takes times. You have to stop and pause and say, ‘what’s it going to be? How are we going to do this?’ So, I think that’s just something we had to acknowledge. We need to slow down and we want to slow down because we believe this is the right thing to do. We want to incorporate this in a meaningful way.”
Iskra also advised to take it slow. “It does come down to a cultural acceptance of your workplace, of your whole team, and it’s not necessarily a decision that the owners say they’ve made and everyone’s going to do it and love it,” he says. “So, it’s a very incremental process. I think [organizations should] start small.”
The City offers an online tool to help guide organizations through TBL principle application. There are also other tools available, as well as local consultants to help you find the right path.
“I know we’re on the track of the most thoughtful way you could resolve problems,” Zaludek says. “And I’m proud to be at least within the working edge of some of those solutions.”
According to Forbes, 70% of millennial consumers will spend more money on brands that support a cause they care about: Read the article here.
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