Triple Bottom Line

10664 Words43 Pages

Wayne Norman and Chris MacDonald

Abstract: In this paper, we examine critically the notion of "Triple Bottom Line" accounting. We begin by asking just what it is that supporters of the Triple Bottom Line idea advocate, and attempt to distil specific, assessable claims from the vague, diverse, and sometimes contradictory uses of the Triple Bottom Line rhetoric. We then use these claims as a basis upon which to argue (a) that what is sound about the idea of a Triple Bottom Line is not novel, and (b) that what is novel about the idea is not sound. We argue on both conceptual and practical grounds that the Triple Bottom Line is an unhelpful addition to current discussions of corporate social
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Organisations such as the Global Reporting Initiative and AccountAbility have embraced and promoted the 3BL concept for use in the corporate world. And corporations are listening. Companies as significant as AT&T, Dow Chemical, Shell, and British Telecom, have used 3BL terminology in their press releases, annual reports and other documents. So have scores of smaller firms. Not surprisingly, most of the big accounting firms are now using the concept approvingly and offering services to help firms that want to measure, report or audit their two additional "bottom lines." Similarly, there is now a sizable portion of the investment industry devoted to screening companies on the basis of their social and environmental performance, and many of these explicitly use the language of 3BL.^ Governments, government departments and political parties (especially Green parties) are also well represented in the growing documentation of those advocating or accepting 3BL "principles." For many NGOs and activist organisations 3BL seems to be pretty much an article of faith. Given the rapid uptake by corporations, governments, and activist groups, the paucity of academic analysis is both surprising and worrisome. Our recent search of the principal academic databases turned up only about a dozen articles, mostly concentrated in journals catering to the intersection of management and environmentalism. One book beyond Elkington 's has been

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