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The Way That Sustainability Has Been Measured Is Changing

It used to be based just on environmental impact. Now it is based on social impact too.
May 31, 2021Updated 4 days ago
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The Way That Sustainability Has Been Measured Is ChangingThe Way That Sustainability Has Been Measured Is Changing
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Historically, sustainability in the business world has been measured by a businesses' impacts on the environment. Sustainability used to be measured with this single set of metrics.
Third party organizations (NGOs) and governments (national and local) for decades have been measuring the impacts that corporations have on the natural world through state level environmental reporting. The name of the game was compliance: i.e. abiding by existing environmental laws and regulations in order to not actively destroy the natural world. Actively making the community a better place was rarely part of the equation. Since the 1970s, starting with the Clean Water and Clean Air legislation, the Environmental Protection Agency began monitoring and regulating how businesses interact with the environment. This included preventing businesses from polluting as well as protecting local animals and land. The EPA is part of the executive branch, so its regulations and enforcement have changed over time, with former President Barack Obama being more strict on enforcement where former President Donald Trump often focused on deregulating. The environmental responsibility of corporations was therefore often tied to the whims of the president and his administration.
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Today, sustainability is measured through the concept of the triple bottom line. The triple bottom line is made up of people, planet and profit.
This is a 10-minute interview with Lisa Geason-Bauer of Evolution Marketing, and discusses companies adopting TBL's and Certified B-Corps with Dr. Patrick Hillberg from Oakland University.
Businesses traditionally think about "bottom line" profits, but these often fail to measure external costs, like harm to people or the planet. Triple Bottom Lines take these into account. The United Nations defines sustainability as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” as well as “harmonizing three core elements: economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection.” While more and more people are aware of the environmental aspect of sustainability, as well as the necessity of balancing these efforts with financial success, the third pillar of sustainability, social inclusion (i.e. people side), is not as well understood. It means incorporating social impact not just into a business plan but into the very ways in which they profit.
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