What is the "Triple Bottom Line?"

Author: Matthew Thau

The Triple Bottom Line (TBL) is an accounting method used to evaluate the economic, social, and ecological impact of an organization on society. Centered on the three pillars—people, planet, profit—TBL accounting has exploded in popularity among major corporations over the past decade, as public awareness of outsourced labor and global climate change exposed the potential hidden costs of social and environmental exploitation that occurred in an effort to generate financial profit. John Elkington, who coined the term in 1994, emphasized that major corporations have a responsibility to acknowledge their total impact on a society according–and must be held accountable for their use of natural, social, and economic resources.

Global recognition of TBL accounting has greatly influenced the growing Fairtrade movement and has convinced many companies to reexamine the ethical standards of suppliers around the world who supply natural goods and labor. In 1997, The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) developed to provide a thorough sustainability-reporting framework for companies interested in TBL accounting. Since its inception, over 1,500 corporations from around the world have used the GRI format to generate sustainability reports.

Graduates of the University of Notre Dame’s ESTEEM program are exposed to the awareness and benefits of Triple Bottom Line accounting throughout their experience. In keeping with the University’s mission of “creating a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice”, many ESTEEM graduates focus their year-long thesis project on innovations that directly benefit society—such as technologies that improve hospital efficiency or on research that may enhance our ability to treat blindness that arises from neurodegenerative diseases. Furthermore, Innovation Park serves as home to the many great ideas developed by graduates of ESTEEM program. Having Innovation Park as an asset of the ESTEEM program introduces graduate students interested in starting their own businesses to entrepreneurs currently in the process of 2010_forumdeveloping their own great ideas. Innovation Park creates a vast network of knowledgeable people for current and future students to interact with and develop ideas.

In response to the increasing focus on economic, social, and ecological factors to create successful corporations, the ESTEEM program prepares its graduates with the tools necessary to thrive in a company invested in contributing to the common good.




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