It was supposed to be a radical rethinking of capitalism, but it’s become a mere accounting tool.

When John Elkington coined the phrase “Triple Bottom Line” (TBL) a quarter of a century ago, he started a trend In business that caused them to account for social and environmental value added, not just financial. Entire industries arose to influence and track corporate accounts of their TBL. What got left behind is the deeper thinking that was intended to go well beyond the trade-off mentality that is so common today. The author intended nothing less than the transformation of capitalism.

Upon reflection, Elkington has found the much wished for transformation to be lacking. Intended as a system wide opportunity to reflect, review plan business in an integrated and systematic way to manage the way business is done, market forces have dumbed down the intended goal to record keeping and some accounting. He’s working on TBL 2.0 which may not even be called TBL in the next iteration.

In anticipation of the reboot, Elkington calls out the efforts of companies like Novo Nordisk, Unilever and Covestro and the rise of B Corporations like Danone and Natura that represent pioneers of the original intent and reflect the spirit of the triple bottom line. Anyone who has an interest in sustainability should look forward to what comes next.

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