But they often don't know how to build businesses that truly reflect their values and vision. Only a handful of people succeed in this, and a framework like Triple Bottom Line might be able to guide us on the journey.
Triple bottom line is a framework that outlines what it means to build a business that truly looks toward the future. It provides real, scientifically-grounded guidance on how to build a wholesome business - one that gives back fairly to those that founded the business, the people that surround it, and the planet that supports them all.
The framework, coined in 1990's, is one of our first attempts at defining a wholesome business. It was famously 'recalled' and reviewed by the author - John Eklington. The original idea, in the form of a deep-reaching manifesto, questioning the very core of capitalism, was quickly adapted and simplified to an economic calculation, something a CEO of a big corporation may sign off and forget about.
But as author of the framework admitted, the framework itself is not enough. Eklington calls for a new wave of innovation and deployment - a whole generation of leaders who will not only question the status quo, but create a new future in its place. Not as a reaction to what's wrong, but as a call for what's right. It's a call for a change that reaches deeper.
Triple Bottom Line was originally intended as a genetic code, a triple helix of change for tomorrow’s capitalism, with a focus was on breakthrough change, disruption, asymmetric growth (with unsustainable sectors actively sidelined), and the scaling of next-generation market solutions.
This is why I believe the world of startups to be such a wonderful opportunity for transforming our future. Each new venture is a blank slate and an opportunity to transform the future of business. To learn from others, but also to dream and invent what is so needed and missing.
There are great resources out there that guide entrepreneurs through addressing global challenges through their businesses. One such resource is the Future Fit Foundation and their free, open-source benchmarks.
Triple Bottom Line and The Gap
That original vision for the world Triple Bottom Line is still very much alive in many entrepreneurs I speak to today.
Where most get stopped is The Gap. The gap between the ideals imagined by the framework, and the reality. Our world is full of wicked complex problems and examples of businesses 'doing it right' and having necessary impact are few and far between.
But businesses have done it, are increasingly doing it and new examples are showing up every day. With those, a few very encouraging guiding patters are emerging. And while not all solutions that worked for the businesses successfully implementing Triple Bottom Line will work for you, their process will.
What process? The design process!
Turns out, the process for solving such a complex challenge is much like that of design. A leading advocate in this space is Leyla Acaroglu - a TED speaker, UN Champion of the Earth and founder of Unschool. She developed and teaches a design process that builds on the process familiar to digital and graphic designers all over the world. On top of the well known double-diamond, the Unschool method adds lenses of Systems and Sustainability.
Learning this method from Leyla and participating in the Masterclass transformed how I work with clients. Systems Thinking and various sustainability tools are now at the core of tools I use every day. They can unearth challenges early and provoke us to work harder now, so that we understand our challenges more fully.
This gives us a new context to look at the Triple Bottom Line framework.
Our world is inherently complex and these complex challenges are unfolding at a fast pace and global scale. No one business, idea or person can hope to address them fully. But a whole generation of scientists, activists, politicians and businesses, looking deeply at the problems and then rapidly iterating towards innovative solutions, will. Let's get to work.