By Jared Kennedy
Director of Operations
On the surface, the Triple Bottom Line and the issue of business transparency are unrelated. The Triple Bottom Line means taking people and planet into consideration along with profits when evaluating the actions and outcomes of your business. It says nothing about how this is measured or messaged, but to me those issues are strongly interrelated. Embracing the Triple Bottom Line means acknowledging that the choices companies make go beyond the abstract boundaries of the company, and have the potential to impact the outside world. So unless companies are open and up front with the outside world about the impacts they have on both people and the planet, the Triple Bottom Line adoption rings hollow. All too often, the Triple Bottom Line is bandied about simply to disguise business as usual, because no one will see what’s going on behind the scenes. Businesses are not risking much by claiming they support these practices if there is no way to see if there are any actions behind their words.
Last month, to acknowledge the importance of providing greater transparency, Brightworks completed the certification process to become a B Corporation. This is a Triple Bottom Line certification system administered by a non-profit organization called B Labs. Certification entails completing a survey and review process that catalogues our company-wide Triple Bottom Line efforts with regards to our employees, the environment, the broader community of consumers, and the suppliers we do business with. It also lets the world see how we’re doing in meeting Triple Bottom Line goals.
Since we opened our doors in June 2001, Brightworks has been a mission-driven professional service firm that helps clients develop their sustainability capacity and improve their environmental performance. The criteria associated with becoming a B Corp are well ingrained in how we operate. By formally becoming a B Corp, we can show both clients and industry in general not only where we are succeeding in our efforts, but also where a growing firm like ours faces challenges and finds room to improve.
Committing to the practice of transparency is a move from intention to action, and has some major advantages. It forces a company to measure its performance against established and accepted criteria — a key first step in making improvements. It is also a quick way to drive immediate improvements. When applied to business transparency, performance measurements can increase internal motivation by giving the outside world a window into how our intentions align with our actions. This can lead to taking care of some of the easier actions that may otherwise slip through the cracks. For instance, maybe you’ve regularly encouraged employees to do volunteer work, but have never quite felt the urgency to formalize the practice and/or provide actual incentives to employees. Or in the case of Brightworks, we’ve always made an effort to purchase ENERGY STAR qualified products. However, we didn’t have a written policy that we shared with our information-technology (IT) suppliers that made it clear ENERGY STAR certification was a requirement for all applicable purchases. We now have a written policy in place, and have shared it with any vendor who purchases on our behalf.
Transparency through certification has the added benefit of providing a third-party backing to the Triple Bottom Line efforts that many companies already have underway. Seventh Generation offers a great example of this: They are already proactive around the Triple Bottom Line, so certification just adds to their credibility.
Another bonus of becoming a B Corp is the access we gain to other businesses with similar goals and obstacles. By joining a network of other firms engaged with the Triple Bottom Line, we can share what did and didn’t work in our efforts, rather than reinvent the wheel one issue at a time. We can also collectively solve some of the challenges we face as an industry, rather than reinvent the wheel one company at a time. A community of businesses embracing the Triple Bottom Line can help each other do more to improve performance and create positive and far-reaching impacts much faster than one company working alone. We’re all on this planet together, and the faster we can act in accordance with Triple Bottom Line principles, the better off we will all be.