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Successfully Developing Triple Bottom Line Sustainability: #5

November 17, 2010 1 comment

This is the fifth of six Blogs dealing with TBL Sustainability to be published over the next few weeks. All these Blogs are being co-developed with my colleague and TLA Associate Tia Carr Williams.

“In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations” – The Great Law of The Iroquois Confederacy

Organizational Sustainable Advantage™ (OSA™) was introduced and defined in Blog #4 of this series. OSA™ results from following a Right for Market™ (R4M™) approach. R4M™ is an improvement on the Right to Market™ (R2M™) approach associated with Sustainable Advantage (SA) that was discussed in an earlier blog, and which involves the more basic method of introducing the right products and/or services at the right time in the right contexts with the right supply chains, and then continually updating, optimizing, and retiring them as necessary. An R4M™ approach makes sure that R2M™ strategy and implementation plans are based not only on profitable win-win collaboration of all parties, but on strategy and implementation plans that are ethical, and without negative impact on relevant ecological and sociological systems. In other words, OSA™ is still pulling change into being, but it goes to a new level by adding the triple bottom line elements (social, ecological, financial) as a significant component of sense making and decision making.

The difference between SA and  OSA™ is particularly important because in our contemporary social-media savvy culture, how a corporate entity performs in environmental, social and economic dimensions has begun to have significant impact, either positively or negatively with respect to the judgments of all stakeholders, including shareholders, consumers, customers, and clients. Whilst there is a clear understanding that businesses are about making profit, firms may no longer profit at the expense of populations or resources at risk. Such a profligate mindset alienates an increasingly aware market-base that is continuously making choices based on their sophisticated understanding and informed awareness of today’s corporate activities. Their perceptions are globally relevant, acute, timely and dynamic, gratis of the Web and the popular groundswell of interest in, and concern for, social and ecological issues.

To further facilitate tracking the impact of commercial activities, the triple bottom line (TBL) monitoring regime has been introduced into the business world. The TBL is sometimes known as ‘people, planet, profit’, and is a commercial measurement and reporting approach that is intended to capture a new set of values and criteria for measuring organizational success in social, ecological and financial parameters. TBL monitoring is directly related to OSA™, and is more rigorous and inclusive re: people, planet and profit than has so far been achieved via Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reporting.

In essence, the triple bottom line expands the traditional accounting framework to truly include and give equal weight to the new ecological compliances and social responsibilities, as well as traditional financial performance. In the past, in the private sector, a commitment to CSR has only incurred commitment to some form of ecological and financial reporting; however, research has shown that CSR has typically been used as a smoke screen behind which companies carried out “business as usual”. TBL measurement and reporting are intended to provide more rigorous and robust monitoring of a corporation’s demonstrated desire for accountability and transparency in regard to people, planet and profit, and its progress toward attaining OSA™.

To ensure and encourage the necessary organizational climate of innovation and TBL focus, monitoring and reporting, The Leadership Alliance Inc. [TLAINC] has led the way in creating an easily understood seamless performance-based process that an organization can morph into as it begins to navigate the transition from Sustainable Competitive Advantage to the triple bottom line driven OSA™.

This process reduces the organizational complexity typically involved in such a large scale change; promotes formation of a fractal organization; fosters common TBL OSA™ understanding and values across all organizational levels; nurtures a culture with innovation at its heart; encourages collegial, participative, open business systems; promotes and leverages networks and social interaction; and provides systems to measure and report progress continuously. We will expand on this process in Blog # 6 of this series.

In the upcoming sixth and final Blog of this series, practical processes will be described that are used by The Leadership Alliance Inc. and its partners to assist client organizations develop triple bottom line OSA™ capability.

Developing Sustainable Organizations Using the Sustainability Score Card™

September 9, 2009 Leave a comment

Blog by Peter A.C. Smith and Dr. Carol Zulauf-Sharicz (Suffolk University, Boston)

Definitions of sustainability range over many different domains such as profit, viability, energy, ecologies, natural resources, organization, and society to name just a few. Most of these definitions are different and none of them totally satisfy requirements to cover all aspects of the subject.  We feel that since a complete definition is not feasible at this time a pragmatic approach based on relevant current research and practical concerns is valid. Therefore we focus here only on the sustainability of commercial organizations, especially organizations functioning in complex environments such as those that face firms locally and globally today and for the foreseeable future. This is not to say that some or all of the following may not be more generally relevant. Further, we define sustainability as the capability of an organization to be viable over extended periods of time in a commercial sense whilst being an exemplar in avoiding potential or real negative ecological and social impacts related to its activities.

What makes an organization sustainable?  First, achieving “Right for Market™” (R4M™).  R4M™means introducing the right products and/or services at the right time in the right contexts at the right price with the right supply chains, and then continually updating, optimising, and retiring them as necessary; and secondly, making sure that achieving R4M™ does not negatively impact relevant ecological or social systems. These two points demand extensive internal and external knowledge and awareness. This may only be satisfied if the organization is founded in complexity and learning based on systemic approaches.  In particular sustainability demands innovative approaches and fresh thinking for the necessary transformative changes to take place and organizational self-actualization in terms of sustainability to be achieved.

With respect to individuals and their self actualization, Abraham Maslow developed a well-known hierarchy of needs.  Maslow postulated that human beings have an innate drive to satisfy these needs, and that they form a hierarchy – Maslow drew the hierarchy as a pyramid. At the lowest level he placed a person’s physiological needs e.g. food, water. Once the physiological needs are met humans look to satisfy what Maslow called the safety needs e.g. law, stability.  When the two lowest needs are largely gratified, there emerges the need for belongingness e.g. love, community.  According to Maslow, only when the three lower needs are satisfied will the individual seek esteem.  Maslow divided this class of needs into two sub-classes.  The first involves the need for self-evaluation e.g. self-esteem, confidence; the second involves the views of others e.g. reputation, prestige.  There is a further less-well formulated stage that often, if not always, develops even if the lower needs are satisfied whereby individuals feel a new discontent and restlessness unless the individual is doing what they are fitted for – this is epitomized in the expression “What a person can be, they must be” and relates to self-actualization.

Maslow made the point that some needs are under the control of others (in the others’ domain), for example safety, recognition, enumeration. Other needs can be satisfied by the individual him or herself (one’s own domain), for example self-esteem and self-actualization. In this regard, Maslow had the further notion of “threshold limits” making the point that individuals should set a target for satisfying their own needs “in others’ domain” at the boundary between “justifiable appetite” and “greedy desire”.  Maslow further postulated that the energy used in seeking to satisfy “greed” saps the individual’s capability to satisfy needs “in one’s own domain”.

So what does this have to do with sustainability? Turns out by analogy “quite a lot”! We can view the needs and development of organizations in a similar way to those ascribed to individuals by Maslow. Further, by equating this development as a journey toward self-actualization in sustainability terms, we can identify organizational behaviors and stages of sustainability development. For example, the initial stage is related to making a profit sufficient to stay in business; short term viability is the key concern and other sustainability aspects are not of concern. The second stage is related to having standards and laws that protect the organization and sustainability other than viability is seen as burdensome. The third stage involves lip service to the communities and the ecological and social standards in which it operates; the organization no more than complies with regulations that govern organizational conduct. It is not until the organization has satisfied these needs that the organization will address Maslow’s “esteem” level when what employees think becomes important, and the organization is confident of its viability and its place in the world of business. After this what others in the broader community think becomes very important, and since this organization now yearns for high reputation and prestige it will take the initiative in preventing negative ecological and social impacts. Finally, an organization will truly become sustainable when it applies the idea that “what an organization can be, it must be” and it then operates as an exemplar of all that is included in our sustainability definition. Further, as Maslow suggested, such an organization will operate at a commendable boundary in “others’ domain” and will be thus able to channel its energies internally to appropriately satisfy the needs of “its own domain.”

For organizations to meaningfully contribute to their own sustainability their activities need to be reported and measured against identified goals. To this end the profit/ economic survival balance sheet must be amended to include bottom lines for environmental and social accountability. This has become known as the triple bottom line and there may yet be other measurements that will be added.  This new way of assessing an organization’s performance is one of the biggest challenges facing organizations today; however, the application of the Maslow hierarchy to an organization allows stages and behaviors on the journey toward sustainability to be described, and a “Sustainability Score Card™” developed, that allows the organization readily to track progress and report measurements.

Please clic the link to if you would like information concerning the related Seminar. To get to  know more about building & leading sustainable organizations and how the Sustainability Score Card™ enhances your potential to achieve this goal, please give us a call through The Leadership Alliance Inc. …. our best to you, Carol and Peter