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The 3Ps of Sustainable Development to save the planet

CSR

14/06/2021

Profit, People and Planet: the TBL Approach to the test of reality

Concrete actions, in safeguarding the environment and the economy

2021 AD and the scholars warn that we have just nine years until it will be too late to reverse the ongoing climate change and pollution process. 2030 is the point of no return: a theory brought to the attention of the world’s media by the young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, based on the thinking of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) scientists. If global polluting emissions are not decreased by 45% by 2030 (the date set by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development), the earth’s future does not look hopeful. This is the reason driving all economic sectors’ search for solutions to contain pollution and the consumption of rare raw materials and the activation of various strategies, such as the Triple Bottom Line which - while certainly not a new idea - has never been more topical. 

The environment: public opinion demands concrete action

The media has grown in influence over the last few decades and “mass opinion” now actively influences the commercial and advertising decisions of companies and industries. Regardless of whether they are television broadcasters or metalworking workshops, the buyer’s opinion is an intrinsic part of their sales process. The awareness-raising campaign about sustainability has made it a priority for the public, affecting the decisions taken by both companies and national governments. Terms like “global warming” or “melting icecaps” are now in common usage and consumers are all in favour of recycling, reducing plastic, raw materials in general and water use. The eco-friendly mindset is now widespread and companies are also moving in this direction. 

TBL approach to the reality check

While it’s true that companies need to make a profit, is it possible to reconcile it with environmental sustainability and economic sustainability? This is where the 3Ps of the triple bottom line come in: conceived of in 1994 by John Elkington, the founder of the SustainAbility consultancy firm, they are now more relevant than ever. Under this approach, companies should aim at making a profit (a conditio sine qua for their existence) but without damaging the population or the environment by polluting and wasting natural resources. This is what the 3Ps stand for: People, Planet, Profit and companies should focus on them to meet their social responsibilities. 

The 3Ps underpin the never-more-topical Triple Bottom Line theory

A company is not only made up of its owners and shareholders but also of people, its employees, consumers and the community: the Triple Bottom Line is achieved when the rights of the stakeholders (i.e., the people that are directly or indirectly affected by the company’s activities) are respected. Therefore, the Triple Bottom Line is achieved when an action by a given company not only does not damage but actually promotes the wellbeing of people, providing adequate remuneration, healthy and clean workplaces and a healthy environment. In addition to the P for Profit and P for People, the other P stands for the Planet. This is because the wellbeing of the individual goes hand in hand with that of our planet. Corporate social responsibility means companies must find a way to make a profit while respecting People and the Planet.

A “responsible” company not only does not damage but actually promotes the wellbeing of people and the planet

The position of the sustainability manager is designed to help companies adhere to these guidelines. This manager is in charge of all the activities to make them coexist as best as possible with the need to minimise the company’s environmental impact.

A new economic vision

Corporate social responsibility best practices are threatened by greenwashing, a sort of pretend environmentalism that distorts the key points of the Triple Bottom Line to the benefit of Profit, giving a brand a good reputation in the eyes of today’s society without this actually being true. This is both dishonest and risky for the company as current investigation and communications tools make it possible to unmask these practices quite easily with huge damage to the company’s reputation.

Why should companies adopt the Triple Bottom Line approach? Because it is the best way for them to secure a strong and responsible position in the market, satisfying the needs of workers and consumers, who require that particular attention be paid to environmental issues without sacrificing profits. Adoption of the TBL Approach represents the transition to a new economic vision, which is less tied to profits alone and increasingly directed to the generation of wide-scale wellbeing. A company that can concurrently meet the needs of all three Ps equally will have achieved not only the true concept of sustainability but also of sustainable development that does not jeopardise the living conditions of the future generations.