What does sustainability mean to you? Is it recycling? Electric vehicles? Waste reduction? If any of these were the first to spring to your mind, then you’re not alone. These are the first things many people think of, but what many people don’t realise is that these are only the environmental aspects of sustainability, and there’s actually a broader spectrum that holistic sustainability encompasses. 

In an era defined by rapid environmental changes, social challenges, and economic uncertainties, sustainability serves as a guiding principle for addressing these complex global issues. Yes, sustainability is often associated with environmental conservation, but its impact extends far beyond that. Where sustainability is concerned, there is an intricate balance between people, the planet, and profits. At its core, sustainability is about meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations. It calls for radical transformation in all aspects of our life. It applies to every business, in every sector, and every individual.

Over the past year, businesses have taken huge strides in their sustainable progress. Yet for some, sustainability remains an afterthought, with it often being one of the first things cut from a budget, rather than invested in. It’s this mindset, combined with companies not investing in appropriate training or talent and experience, that leads to a scrambled approach and a lacklustre offsetting pledge. But it isn’t all doom and gloom—some businesses want to get involved, but simply don’t know how or where to get started, leaving it untouched on the ‘to-do’ list—so in this article, we’ll be diving into the triple bottom line, including how you can get started and the benefits you’ll see from doing so.

Image of two speakers providing a keynote on the business case for sustainability. They are standing on a stage in front of a screen with slides in the background which highlight key points when debunking the costs of sustainability.

What is the triple bottom line and why is it important?

The triple bottom line is a sustainability framework that takes a positive environmental and social approach to becoming more eco-conscious. Following this framework enhances your business’s moral compass and helps to drive financial success. The concept is broken down into ‘three Ps’: people, planet, and profit.

How does sustainability benefit people?

We live in a world full of consumption, and it’s our responsibility to ensure that it’s not all take and no give. Not only is it unethical, but there’s a wider impact—because contributing to the well-being of people is not just a moral imperative, it’s a strategic business move. When you invest in people, you can boost your profits and make a difference—especially when you localise your efforts.

Harvard Business School states it’s important to make the distinction between shareholders and stakeholders when talking about business. In their business insights blog, they detail how businesses traditionally favoured shareholder value as an indicator of success (meaning they would typically strive to generate value for those who owned shares of the company). But the blog also states that “as firms have increasingly embraced sustainability, they’ve shifted their focus toward creating value for all stakeholders impacted by business decisions, including customers, employees, and community members.”

This is a huge shift for companies as they use business as a force for good, helping to serve society in the process. For example, including fair hiring practices or encouraging volunteerism. But this approach can be broken down even further:

Social equality and well-beingHealth and safetyResilience and adaptation
Businesses can implement sustainable practices that foster inclusivity, social equity, and human rights. By ensuring fair hiring and working conditions, they can empower marginalised communities.Companies can promote cleaner environments and reduce their pollution through sustainability initiatives. This can lead to improved public health, reduced healthcare costs, and enhanced overall well-being for staff and local communities.Sustainable approaches help communities build resilience to climate change, natural disasters, and other environmental challenges. This includes investments in renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and infrastructure development.

How does sustainability benefit the planet?

Businesses of all sizes now have a huge responsibility to not only reduce waste, emissions, and consumption but also to be the face of positive change. That means using their influence to encourage others as well as actively driving change through their own initiatives. After all, we only have one planet, and if we all do our part, we can make a huge difference.

Businesses looking to make an impact can look at two key areas: stabilisation and conservation. Climate stabilisation includes adopting sustainable practices, such as transitioning to renewable energy sources and implementing energy-efficient technologies. This helps combat climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting carbon neutrality. With governmental bodies around the world pledging to net zero emission goals, working towards carbon neutrality should be at the top of every business’s agenda—especially as in the not-so-distant future, it looks likely that we can expect to see a lot of red tape and possible fines for companies that don’t meet certain targets. 

Conservation can encompass both biodiversity and resources and biodiversity conservation includes sustainable land and resource management practices. This could be in the form of safeguarding ecosystems and ensuring the long-term viability of various species or by preserving biodiversity which also supports critical ecosystem services, such as pollination, water filtration, and climate regulation.

So, how can businesses even get involved in something as complex as biodiversity? Well, it may be more simple than you think! When looking at sustainability it’s not about suddenly having a drastic overhaul of ALL the things—this isn’t feasible nor cost-effective and can increase stress and pressure on teams. It’s all about incorporating sustainable practices into your day-to-day life. This can look different for everyone. For some it may be committing to using sustainable supply chains, for others it may be actively participating in habitat restoration initiatives (such as supporting reforestation projects, wetland restoration, or the establishment of protected areas). 

Whereas for resource conservation (which refers to sustainable resource management practices) you’ll want to focus on the things which can benefit circular economy models. Think along the lines of reducing waste generation, minimising resource depletion and promoting the efficient use of materials. 

Easy ways to get involved in this include reducing energy and water consumption through employee education and smart appliances, optimising lighting systems (with energy-efficient bulbs or motion sensors), ensuring appropriate building insulation, implementing waste management programmes, encouraging recycling, composting organic waste (such as uneaten food), and discouraging single-use plastics, and carbon reporting, to name just a few!

The key to making sustainability changes is to open up the dialogue about what can be done and to collaborate with organisations that can help you along the way.

How can sustainability benefit profits?

Many are under the assumption that incorporating sustainable initiatives into business increases cost and lowers ROI—but that assumption is wrong. Sustainability isn’t a financial burden—it can be a financial benefit, helping to drive profitability and create long-term economic advantages. Here’s how:

Cost savings

While the start-up costs for new technology and replacing old systems can seem daunting at first, the savings over time work more than make up for it. Sustainable practices often lead to reduced operational costs through energy and resource efficiency, waste reduction, and optimised supply chain management. These cost savings contribute directly to a company’s bottom line.

Market opportunities

Consumers are more eco-conscious than ever before and many are aligning their purchasing behaviours with their values. This leads to an increase in demand for sustainable products and services—not just in terms of materials, but in those that are giving back. (Think community initiatives, food being donated to food banks etc). Businesses that position sustainability as a forefront priority rather than an afterthought, can tap into new markets, attract environmentally conscious customers, and differentiate themselves from competitors whilst doing so.

Brand reputation and employee engagement

Embracing sustainability enhances brand reputation and fosters customer loyalty. Additionally, it attracts and retains top talent by demonstrating a commitment to social and environmental responsibility, leading to improved employee satisfaction and productivity.

Overall, sustainability doesn’t just benefit people, planet, profit—it helps to leave a lasting legacy.

As you can see, sustainable practices extend beyond just the environmental aspects we have become so familiar with. They encompass many facets of both a business and society as a whole. From the well-being of people (including both employees and the wider local community) to the preservation of our planet, the generation of profits and the savings that can be made, it’s no wonder that more and more businesses are finally coming around to adapting their way of thinking.

Embracing sustainable practices not only ensures a healthier and more equitable future for all but also creates long-term economic prosperity and by recognising the synergy between the three P’s of the triple bottom line model, businesses can unlock their full potential to create a lasting legacy.