Contemplating the Triple Bottom Line

A reader sent me this article on the metrics we need to determine how “green” certain of our actions are. Specifically, how do we measure our success at contributing to the “triple bottom line,” where investments pay returns financially, socially, and environmentally?

Yes, it would be terrific, for example, if a business had a more precise way to quantify the benefits of what it’s doing when it reduces its carbon footprint or improves the LCA (lifecycle analysis) of the products it builds.

I think it would be easy to over-complicate, as well as to oversimplify, however. Each industry, and each business within it, has its own unique relationship with its stakeholders: supply chain, employees, investors, and customers – as well as with the civilization at large. As to quantifying social and environmental good, we may run into horrific “apples and oranges” issues. Through a ripple-effect, one strategy might result in better world health, another in reduced CO2 emissions, and a third in more promise for innovation of new, potentially world-changing technology. Good luck determining which one’s best.

In terms of exact calibrations of social and environmental good, we may have to content ourselves with the approach for which 20th Century U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart is best remembered regarding a precise definition of pornography: “It’s hard to define, but I know it when I see it.”

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