Multiple Bottom Lines

Please enjoy the following excerpt form my Best-selling book, The Translucent Revolution, New World Library, 2005.


Joe Kresse, with the Foundation for Global Community, is another translucent activist who perceives business as a ripe arena for transformation. He reports that translucent values emerge in businesses when they are willing to question the traditional idea of the bottom line. The more Iago-driven an organization, the more profit determines every decision. “True enough,” says Kresse. “Business does have to make a profit, but more and more businesses are developing multiple bottom lines. In many cases these are People, Environment, and Shareholders.” He observes that all are served best when prioritized in that order.
Kresse cites the Danish company Novo Nordisk, the world’s leading manufacturer of diabetic drugs, as a prime example. Their 2001 annual report is aptly titled Reporting on Three Bottom Lines: People/Planet/Profits. Out of sixty-eight pages, a full twenty-eight are devoted to social responsibility: investigating the company’s contribution to global issues, including universal health care, human rights, and bioethics. Another eighteen pages are devoted to the environmental impact of the company.
Like the BP sustainability report, this is a far cry from what one expects in a corporate annual report, prepared primarily for the profitableshareholders. The document is frequently critical of the company’s ability to meet its own ethical standards. It presents seven dilemmas and then publishes critical responses from people outside the company. For example, they invited the editor of Newsweek to respond to the question “How can we do ethical business in an unjust, unequal world and also respect its diversity?” The question “How can we improve access to health care and make our products affordable, and yet continue to operate a profitable business?” was answered by a doctor in a small medical center in Tanzania.
While Kresse sees many more examples of this kind of translucent approach to business in Europe than in the United States, he notes that even companies like Dow Chemical and Philip Morris, at one time the quintessential villains of environmental and health-related irresponsibility, are starting to change, albeit at a snail’s pace.boyplane
Kresse maintains that for a company to perform well in the emerging translucent paradigm, it must put profitability as its last priority, almost as a by-product of other, more important contributions.
Profit is something like happiness. If we make life about trying to be as happy as possible, we become very self-absorbed and often miserable. But we all know people who have made their lives about service, community, and making the greatest contribution they can: they end up happy almost by accident. Some companies, like BP, may pass through bumpy periods of transition in shifting from a single to multiple bottom lines, but once they do, says Kresse, they will become more profitable.

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One Response to “Multiple Bottom Lines”

  1. Suzanne January 9, 2011 at 4:24 am // Reply

    I’m reading your book The Translucent Revolution and quite like it. I was just wondering of you still consider BP and Shell “translucent” companies after what happened with the oil spill, and after knowing through Wikileaks that Shell is still playing very dirty games in Nigeria. Was their so-called sustainable move in their annual reports not just window dressing after all?


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