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October 11, 1995

Multiple Bottom Line

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A single numerical figure at the bottom of the balance sheet, regardless of its size, can no longer measure success. Our whole world is quickly migrating toward an expectation that all efforts return something beyond a single bottom line.
For some time, people have talked about the double bottom line—aiming for profits and something else. In 1994 John Elkington coined the phrase triple bottom line. His three bottom lines were people, planet, and profits. In 2006, Andrew Savitz published a book called The Triple Bottom Line and continued the dialogue, emphasizing the social, environmental, and financial performance metrics for success.
I like these three categories, but I think people of faith can do Savitz one better. Savitz doesn’t split the spiritual good apart from the social good, and I think that’s worth consideration. Therefore, I often describe four bottom lines that reflect money, environmental good, social good, and spiritual return.
Honestly, there are probably a number of possible bottom lines, but when I talk about “multiple bottom line,” I’m thinking about these four categories:
• Profitability—The obvious one. Are you making money?
• Environment—Is your work replenishing the earth? Is it sustainable?
• Social good—Are you providing jobs, opportunities, and social welfare for others?
• Spiritual return—Is faith strengthened? Is the gospel being displayed as part of this work or intentionality?
If you’re an organizational leader, multiple-bottom-line thinking is your protection against everything you don’t want to become, and it is your power to effect the change you dream of. It is one of the greatest differentiators for all the right reasons and all the best results.
The Nehemiah Project, a Christian entrepreneurship ministry, outlines these four reasons for thinking about multiple bottom lines:
1. MBL pushes you to think holistically about your business.
2. MBL looks to transform communities, not just display good citizenship as a public relations strategy.
3. MBL provides greater financial stability in the long term.
4. MBL produces more employee, shareholder, and customer satisfaction.
Multiple-bottom-line thinking puts your convictions to the test, but it can be good for business at the same time. Happier employees, shareholders, and customers usually produce a higher achieving and more stable company.

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