Don’t overlook the triple bottom line

After reading the article about Kaua‘i “Something’s Happening Here” in the June 2008 edition of Hawaii Business magazine and attending a recent Group 70 Foundation event in Honolulu, I started reflecting on the meaning of the triple bottom line and how it applies to our island.

The phrase was coined by John Elkington, co-founder of the business consultancy SustainAbility, in his 1998 book “Cannibals with Forks: the Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business.”

The term is gaining recognition as a framework for measuring business performance. It focuses on: 1) producing a long-term positive economic impact; 2) increasing the well-being of employees and the surrounding community; and 3) increasing the health and vitality of the natural environment that supports the economy. It goes beyond profits to include consideration of people and the planet.

In some countries, notably Australia and New Zealand, it is becoming common practice for corporations to issue reports on their triple bottom line. The impetus stems primarily from demands for greater corporate accountability and transparency.

As Justine Nolan of the University of New South Wales states, “The uptake of corporate responsibility reporting is perhaps indicative of a growing realization that the question ‘Is it good for shareholders?’ cannot be answered in isolation from considering the relevance of a particular issue to the company’s broader class of stakeholders” — that is, everyone who is involved with the company directly or indirectly, as well as the planet we’re all living on.

As a business, this may seem a daunting responsibility. But in the Hawaii Business article, Randy Francisco, Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce president, brought it home to us when he noted, “If the community is taken care of, the business will succeed.”

I witnessed an example of that last week at a gathering hosted by Group 70, a Honolulu architectural, design and planning firm that embraces sustainability. In 2002, the business created the Group 70 Foundation to benefit nonprofits that focus their efforts on a better living environment in Hawai‘i. Nonprofits apply and Group 70 employees — not management — select the recipients.

This year 21 organizations were selected to receive a grant from the foundation, and I am proud to say Kaua‘i Planning & Action Alliance was among them. It was impressive to learn of the innovative community-focused programs from around the state that were funded, and to see first-hand a wonderful example of triple bottom line thinking.

A growing number of companies on Kaua‘i and around the state have taken a leap of faith to integrate profits, people and planet into their business planning. To them and to Group 70, a warm mahalo for leading the way.

• Diane Zachary is president and CEO of Kaua‘i Planning & Action Alliance. She can be reached at kpaa@kauainetwork.org

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