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The triple bottom line: People, planet and profit

The concept of the triple bottom line – or 3BL - is relatively recent in business terms. Coined in 1994 by British social entrepreneur John Pilkington, it attempts to shift business’s emphasis away from mere profit and towards a stakeholder model.

The concept of the triple bottom line – or 3BL - is relatively recent in business terms. Coined in 1994 by British social entrepreneur John Pilkington, it attempts to shift business’s emphasis away from mere profit and towards a stakeholder model. It raises the prominence of corporate responsibility to communities of people, to the environment, to ethics and sustainability.

Contrasting with the Milton Friedman economic model, which has profit as the single bottom line, (“The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits” — Milton Friedman, 1970) the triple bottom line has the three P’s, people, planet, profit, at its core.

At the ESMT European School of Management and Technology in Berlin, where I represented TopMBA.com and the TopMBA Career Guide, left me with little doubt. There is an impressive, sincere and increasing cohort of business leaders, business school deans and professors and MBAs that genuinely believes in change.

Ethical scrutiny

The recent recession has sparked accusations aplenty that MBAs caused the economic crisis, with high profile MBA alumni at Lehmann Brothers, Goldman Sachs, Enron and other scrutinized businesses.

Lucy Kellaway even went as far as to proclaim the death of the MBA in her well-written article in the November 2009 issue of The Economist.

President Lars-Hendrik Roller of ESMT European School of Management and Technology in Berlin, acknowledges this view but demurs: “The financial crisis is far too complex to lay the blame only on business schools and MBA graduates. A lack of regulation and supervision, particularly in financial services, a too large appetite for risk, and the wrong incentives for managers were some of the main drivers. International business schools’ approach, played a part, but certainly not the decisive one.”

Paul Danos, dean of Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, says “1 percent of MBA graduates in those great companies” can accept responsibility for the mismanaged credit problem that precipitated the crisis.

Ethics

Schools all around the world are infusing their courses with ethical and sustainable practices. Dean Alfons Sauquets of ESADE says that rather than “create an ethics class for students to take or not, ESADE tries to bring in ethics across the board.”

Business schools are in a position to change course structures. Some schools who will, and some won’t. Harvard Business School’s own appointment of a new dean, professor Nitin Nohria, with a background in leadership and ethics suggests that even the great conservative dame of the business school world is paying attention.

 
 
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