From soothing palliatives and towards ecological literacy: a critique of the triple bottom line
Milne, Markus J
The ‘triple bottom line’ (3BL), an idea attributed to and increasingly evangelized by John Elkington of the London-based consultancy, SustainAbility (Elkington, 1997; Wheeler & Elkington 2001), involves incorporating economic, environmental and social performance indicators into businesses’ management, measurement and reporting processes. The emergence and increasing take-up by business of the 3BL, however, seems to have created dangerous uncertainty as to what is required of organizations. At its narrowest, pursuing the 3BL involves measuring and reporting economic, environmental and social performance objectives that are pursued simultaneously. A broader view, however, suggests that the 3BL involves assessing an entity’s values, strategies and practices and how these can be utilized to achieve economic, environmental and social objectives (SustainAbility, 2003). The term also seems to be used increasingly as a synonym for “sustainability”. Many organizations seem to confuse narrow and often incomplete reporting practices with claims to be reporting on being sustainable, actually being sustainable, or more commonly, with claims to be moving towards sustainability. In view of such dangerous confusion, this paper critically examines the content of international business 3BL reporting and argues that while pursuing the 3BL may be a necessary condition for sustainability, it is unlikely to be a sufficient condition, and indeed may amount to little more than soothing palliatives, leading to greater levels of un-sustainability. We offer, therefore, some ways in which businesses may begin to get beyond their 3BL change-but-no-change rhetoric of sustainability and towards ecological literacy.
Publisher: University of Otago
Series: Accountancy Working Paper Series
Research Type: Working Paper