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Study notes

Elkington's Triple Bottom Line (CSR)

  • Levels: A Level
  • Exam boards: AQA

Elkington's Triple Bottom Line model is an influential model that has helped share the corporate social responsibility agenda.

The short video below provides an overview of Elkington's Triple Bottom Line model and there are some additional study notes below the video.

Elkington's Triple Bottom Line - Explained

What is the “Triple Bottom Line”?

The Triple Bottom Line is a concept that encourages the assessment of overall business performance based on three important areas: Profit, People and Planet

Elkington Triple Bottom Line - People, Planet & Profit

Limitations with Traditional Measures of Business Performance

The Triple Bottom Line approach (Profit, People and Planet) arose out of frustration with traditional, financially-focused measures of business performance, which have tended to emphasise profit as the key metric

  • Businesses are usually assumed to be profit-maximisers
  • Profit is the traditional measure of business success
  • Profit is closely linked with business value (e.g. share price and market capitalisation)
  • Profit is often the basis for financial incentives (e.g. senior management bonuses)

Is there More to Business Success than Profit?

In his model, John Elkington argues for a more balanced approach to measuring performance over time:

So Profit, People and Planet aims to measure the financial, social and environmental performance of a business over a period of time.

Profit

  • Familiar to managers
  • Identified from income statement (profit and loss account)
  • Audited = reliable figure

Planet

  • Measures the impact of business activity on the environment
  • More tangible – e.g. emissions, use of sustainable inputs

People

  • Measures extent to which business is socially responsible
  • Harder to calculate & report reliably & consistently

Benefits of Measuring the Triple Bottom Line

The potential benefits of measuring a broader scope of business performance based on Profit, Planet & People include:

  • Encourages businesses to think beyond narrow measure of performance (profit)
  • Encourages CSR reporting
  • Supports measurement of environmental impact & extent of sustainability

Criticisms of The Triple Bottom Line

Amongst the criticisms that have been made of Elkington’s model are:

  • Not very useful as an overall measure of business performance
  • Hard to reliably and consistently measure People & Planet bottom-lines
  • No legal requirement to report it – so take-up has been poor

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