Debate & Discuss: Triple-Bottom Line

Posted: December 29, 2015 by
Linda Casey

The triple-bottom line as a marketing and business strategy


Gretchen Grani

Director of corporate giving and sustainability at organics foods company Nutiva


Is a triple-bottom line a sound marketing and business strategy? 

We’re definitely seeing a trend with more corporations adopting a triple-bottom line approach, because it makes good business sense. Creating shared values and passions for the greater good of society with your customers leads to strong brand loyalty. It engages them in the discussion of where a product comes from and how it is made. When you buy a container of Nutiva’s coconut oil, you’re buying a part of our social mission.

Beyond its marketing value, a triple-bottom engenders greater efficiencies and cost savings, fosters resiliency and spurs innovation. Another department that benefits is human resources. A corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy leading to better governance, transparency and benefits results in more engaged and productive workers. CSR has also been called the hottest recruitment and retention tool for Millennials. 

It’s becoming increasingly clear that running a business for profit only can lead to poor results for the business and society as a whole, so there has to be wider objectives around treating people fairly and minimizing environmental impact.


Why should companies care about social responsibility? 

Companies care about CSR because their customers do. There’s a heightened awareness of the need to be a good corporate citizen. In the Internet Age where information about a company’s environmental and social practices is readily accessible and readily tweeted, companies must pay careful attention to what their customers do and say. Customers are more educated, and they’re kept informed by the steadily increasing flow of information from the media, watchdog nonprofits, bloggers and social media.   

Of increased interest to customers is responsibility along the supply chain. For instance, where does their food come from? Are farmers in developing countries protected by fair labor standards? Are they working in safe environments and receiving fair pay? When a business addresses the social impacts of food throughout the supply chain–from farm to fork–it addresses the customer’s need for transparency as well as reduces risk.

Companies also care about CSR because they see it as their responsibility to do so. It will take unprecedented coordination between the public and private sector to solve our society’s complex problems, such as the consequences from climate change. In the past, we’ve left it up to government and nonprofits to solve the world’s problems, but they can’t do it alone. Corporations have tremendous spending power and are well positioned to use their leverage as a force for good.  


Can a brand make social responsibility part of its marketing strategy and still be authentic? 

It depends on the practices and culture of the company, and whether they have a mission statement or an income statement leading the way. Companies still have the burden of building trust with their customers by delivering real results. We have a responsibility to our brand fans to maintain standards and fight the fights they want us to engage in.

For companies to take CSR seriously, it has to be transparent and it has to be integrated into the DNA of the business. That comes through in the jobs we provide and our hiring practices, the products we make, and the ways in which we use resources. Transparency and building culture are antidotes to greenwashing.


How can business leaders encourage more social responsibility within the corporate environment? 

Many prominent leaders are already encouraging and inspiring other businesses. Look at the successful tech entrepreneurs who have started foundations and are taking on big social problems, or Warren Buffet’s commitment to donate the bulk of his fortune.

You don’t need a lot of money to model social responsibility to other businesses. Galaxy Desserts here in Richmond is a small business that hires the formerly incarcerated; they find them to be very loyal and hard working. Nutiva’s own CEO John Roulac advocates and speaks about his passions, from labeling genetically modified products to carbon farming.

Although we have exemplary leaders in business, there are those who believe the sole responsibility of business is to increase profits for its shareholders. This group is only going to be persuaded by financial benefits. Fortunately, a growing body of research and surveys reveal strong linkages between an organization’s CSR activities and improvements in a company’s traditional performance drivers, such as competitiveness, revenue growth, marketshare, profits, and the ability to recruit and retain top talent. Business seems to be listening to the evidence. Ten years ago, only about a dozen Fortune 500 companies issued a CSR or sustainability report. Now the majority does.


Can you share some tips on how a brand can incorporate messages about its social responsibility on its packaging and in other marketing vehicles? 

Messaging on food packaging can be restricted by space, but using symbols like our 1% to Sustainable Agriculture can communicate to shoppers via shorthand. Using certification logos such as Organic and Fair Trade offer further guarantees of commitment and performance. Many companies also publish CSR reports and webpages committed to such communications. Of course, the type of packaging material used communicates a company’s commitment to sustainability as well.

Social media is a primary vehicle used to communicate our social message. We have an active presence across multiple platforms. The analytics and brand building opportunities with social media are astounding when you engage consumers in relevant and visually exciting content. 

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Every choice we make as a business comes with a trail of impacts caused by the choice. I see a triple-bottom line approach as an opportunity to make better decisions and focus on what impacts we can improve. In the big picture, caring about social responsibility contributes to our communities and quality of life. It makes life worth living. 



Lewis Perkins

Interim president of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute


Is a triple-bottom line a sound marketing and business strategy?

We like the Triple Top Line approach, where people, planet and all resources prosper when we look to improve ecology, economy and equity. This comes right from our founders, who believe that the concept of the triple bottom line is a useful tool in theory but in practice tends to minimize environmental or social liabilities. Instead, they advocate for pursuing positive aspirations at every level of commerce to anchor intelligent design deep within corporate business strategy. And when good design drives the business agenda, the path toward sustainability turns from end-of-pipe solutions to creating value with innovative product design. This represents a shift from a triple bottom line to a triple top line. You can read more about their philosophy at


Why should companies care about social responsibility?

A product can’t be considered positive if it does not honor humanity. We look to the Hannover Principles in guiding the interconnected relationship between people and planet. The nine principles are: 

1. Insist on rights of humanity and nature to co-exist 

2. Recognize interdependence

3. Respect relationships between spirit and matter

4. Accept responsibility for the consequences of design

5. Create safe objects of long-term value

6. Eliminate the concept of waste

7. Rely on natural energy flows

8. Understand the limitations of design 

9. Seek constant improvement by the sharing of knowledge


Can a brand make social responsibility part of its marketing strategy and still be authentic?

CSR should be part of a brand’s core business strategy and then they can authentically tell stories about it, not the other way around.


How can business leaders encourage more social responsibility within the corporate environment?

Business leaders should build social responsibility into everything they do, and run their companies with the long race in mind, not short term gains. 


Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

The benefit of including a certification mark on packaging is that it raises consumer confidence. The Cradle to Cradle Certified mark on packaging also tells shoppers that the brand is interested in growing a community of safe products perpetually cycled and designed for humans and the environment.

It is about the Cradle to Cradle experience and what it means to have “C2C Certified” on the back of Method cleaning products, Be Green Packaging, etc. As awareness grows for the high standard of Cradle to Cradle so does the persuasion to continue buying products that have both been assessed for induction into the program and reassured by the manufacturer to continue the path for improvement.