What is Sustainable Value?

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What is Sustainable Value?

Sustainable Value and the Triple Bottom Line

Sustainability is the ability to live within our means. Sustainable value is the ability to provide value that sustains the organization and the context within which it exists.

The triple bottom line is a way of conceptualizing this for corporations, across three essential domains. These domains work within the corporation and without. Value flows both ways; outward and inward.

Corporations are mandated and focused on economic survival and growth, typically measured by profit. For those organizations that are not profit-oriented, there is still a need for financial viability. A focus on sustainable value generates financial benefits for the organization. This accrues through a variety of means including wasting less energy and materials (and money); generating customer loyalty and investor value; developing a stable, integrated value chain; heightening employee engagement.

The economy is dependent on the social context, people. The success of economic growth is dependent on a healthy and stable society. In an age when information is shared almost instantly, corporate supply chains and their effect on the local populous, no matter where in the world, is constantly being assessed for social license. Within the organization, the social side includes contributing to employee health and well-being, value flowing back through improved productivity.

Society is dependent on a healthy planet. We require clean air, water and soil in order to survive and maintain health. Food systems require a stable climate. Oxygen is provided by forests and phytoplankton in the ocean. Forests and other terrestrial and aquatic environments require healthy complex ecosystems composed of plants and animals in order to stay viable. All of these processes are termed “ecosystem services”. When these services are maintained, they contribute to corporate sustainability; not only to the extent that the corporation depends on them directly, but also through societal esteem and by avoiding the surprise of new regulations down the road.

Attending to all three levels of value is called the “triple bottom line”. Organizations can assess where they are on the balance sheet for each of these domains. Now that we can track and measure what is required for collective health, the responsibility of the corporation has expanded. While we were once blind to our impacts, we are no longer so. The corporate context has changed and enlightened businesses are adjusting to a playing field where the rules have changed.

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