Crossroads of Philosophy and Economics

Pocket Reference of Business Ethics Theories


Triple Bottom Line and Sustainability
(People, Planet, Profit)
Social fairness
Environmental stewardship
Economic growth and profit
As measured independently of other responsibilities, ensure the fair distribution of wealth and opportunity along the line of value-creation.
As measured independently of other responsibilities, contribute to the continuing livability of the planet.
As measured independently of other responsibilities, achieve bottom line results ensuring the business’s long term viability.
Key concepts
Each of the three values are pursued autonomously and businesses should tabulate and present results for each of the three categories individually
Economic sustainability means sufficient profit to continue. As opposed to the marketplace conception of profit which tends toward the highest possible return in the shortest possible term, sustainability aims for longevity: consistent profits over the long term.
Sustainability as a social value balances people’s lives and the way we live. In the NYC metropolitan area, for example, a reality where all executives are hauling down millions a year ultimately becomes unsustainable when other workers can no longer afford to live near the city and so aren't available to do the supporting work necessary to keep the executives going. Similar reasoning applies internationally where the Fair Trade movement may be understood as an expression of sustainability.
Environmental sustainability requires stewardship of our natural surroundings: use balanced by preservation to enable continued use. A brewery dripping industrial waste into the soil fails the test of sustainability when the toxins infiltrate the water table and poison the groundwater the brewery needs to make its beer.
Hard questions
How do you measure success in each of the three areas - people, planet and profit - so that you can normalize, that is, compare relative success in each of the three areas.
Assuming you can normalize measures of sustainability in the three areas, should one be emphasized over the others?

Triple Bottom Line theory is difficult to implement in the theoretically vigorous sense because of problems associated with defining sustainability and measuring results across the three divergent categories of responsibility. Consequently, most companies adhering to the theory practice a soft triple bottom line ethics, one where distinct actions are taken on all three fronts without rigorously defining their relative import. An example is the Great Lakes Brewing Company which donates to charitable social organizations, acts to preserve the local water supply (important for beer), and seeks long haul viability.

Prime philosophical
theory compatibilities
Duty theory, Rights Theory, Utilitarianism, Altruism (limited), Culturalism
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