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Published on October 1st, 2008 | by John Ivanko

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Triple Bottom Line: Making the Planet a Better Place for ALL Life

My first two posts about the triple bottom line for green businesses addressed the people who make up an enterprise as well as the people who supply it, use the goods or services created, or invest in the enterprise.

First coined by John Elkington and articulated in his book, Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of the 21st Century, the triple bottom line doesn’t drop the idea that businesses should earn a profit. It adds that businesses should do so in ways that take into account environmental and social performance in addition to financial performance. It requires a strong and efficient organization, perhaps even more so. Not only do you need to make a profit, you need funds and resources to reach beyond where mainstream business stops. A triple bottom line means expanding the spectrum of values and criteria for measuring business success to include: the planet, people and profits.

A Planet Bottom Line

Is what is being produced or services provided better for ALL life? A Planet bottom line continually examines inputs and outputs, addressing the materials we use and how we use them as well as minimizing – if not eliminating — waste. Ecopreneurs recognize and incorporate ecological limits into their business models. Many shun the use of toxic chemicals, hazardous materials or processes, or exploitative approaches to nature. A growing number of people are adopting an approach to product development or design that involves biomimicry.

Whatever your business, its impact on the environment must be not only assessed but addressed, ideally leaving a situation better than when you started. Sustainable businesses can, and should, aspire to not merely mitigate or minimize their impacts on the environment, but in the very way they operate their business, it should make the planet healthier, community more prosperous, air clearer and bring greater economic and social justice.

As we argue at length in ECOpreneuring, it’s the fundamental role of a green business to restore, heal, enhance or nurture the living systems on which we depend. Bottom line, does the mission of the business contribute to making this world a better place, not just line your pocket with more money? For many ecopreneurs we’ve interviewed or met over the past decade, they believe that rather than the purpose of business to make profits, profits are desired to plow back into the organization’s mission of making the world a better place.

As in nature, limits create opportunities and demand innovation. For some of the smaller businesses, by keeping small and human scaled, we can readily control inputs and outputs, prioritizing clean water, air and energy sources while minimizing if not eliminating waste. Nearly all ecopreneurs are taking active steps to address climate change.

With our Inn Serendipity Bed & Breakfast, we empower ourselves to financially value and take the time to make these decisions — from what type of bananas we blend in our Inn Serendipity B & B smoothies (ideally organic and Fair Trade certified) to using green energy. We participate in the “Second Nature” green energy program with our local utility, Alliant Energy, purchasing green energy to offset what we can’t produce ourselves on site with our 10kW Bergey wind turbine or .7 kW photovoltaic systems during certain times of the year.

Graphic Source: Angry Trout Cafe, Minnesota



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About the Author

John Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, is the co-author of ECOpreneuring, Rural Renaissance and Edible Earth, innkeeper of the award-winning Inn Serendipity Bed & Breakfast, national speaker, freelance writer, and copartner in a marketing consulting company. Ivanko is also an award-winning photographer and author or co-author of numerous books, including the award-winning children's photobooks, To Be a Kid, To Be an Artist, Be My Neighbor and Animal Friends, which help support the Global Fund for Children Books. He's contributed to Natural Home, E/The Environmental Magazine, Mother Earth News, Hobby Farms and Wisconsin Trails, among many others. Former advertising agency fast-trackers, the husband and wife duo are nationally recognized for their contemporary approach to ecopreneurship, homesteading, conservation and more sustainable living. Based in Browntown, Wisconsin, they share their farm and Inn Serendipity Bed & Breakfast with their son, a 10kW Bergey wind turbine, and millions of ladybugs.



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