Focus on Substance, Not Slogans, to Strive for Sustainability

Focus on Substance, Not Slogans, to Strive for Sustainability

 Polling and advertising agencies have been warning us about confusion around the practice of going green. The New York Times has coined the term, “green noise” to describe this confusion. The Wall Street Journal posits that the consumer is becoming more skeptical of green products due to both greenwashing and green noise. It is clear that consumers are inundated with too many issues to be able to understand all of them. Many consumers may enjoy green products if they can identify a clear benefit from those products. Allowing business to cash in on their green sentiment is not what they have in mind!

Perhaps there is there a parallel phenomenon in the sustainability (corporate social responsibility) space? What about the overuse of the slogans: “Triple Bottom Line” and “People, Planet, Profits.” Like the Brundtland Commission definition of sustainability (see my previous blog on Defining Sustainability), these slogans lack the operational specificity needed to make sustainability function at the facility level.

In the distance learning sustainability course that I teach at Harvard University, I use a paper entitled, “Getting to the Bottom of the ‘Triple Bottom Line,’ ” published by Wayne Norman and Chris MacDonald. It makes the people that use the TBL phrase angry. The authors argue that the triple bottom line is a rhetorical device with little substance. Further, the TBL may distract managers and investors from more effective approaches to social and environmental performance. Their critique is not aimed at sustainability efforts in general, but rather at this one misguided slogan. I like to make the same argument on the use of the very popular 3P slogan. Almost every sustainability manager using this slogan says, “Making a profit is a given!” …………….

………………..Finally there are the economic responsibilities. Some have referred to the five capitals that are involved in the economic responsibilities: human, natural, social, manufactured and financial. Most businesses focus on the financial capital area. It is the traditional measure of business performance and is used to report to the shareholders as well as a wide range of different stakeholders. In order to promote sustainability, a business needs a clear understanding of how financial value is created. All five forms of capital are interdependent on each other. One must look well beyond profits and consider the value of the other four capitals.

The TBL and 3P slogans, while incredibly popular, are limiting and diverting us from working on the basics of sustainability. They are creating a lot of sustainability noise and this is not good for companies wanting to continually improve in this area.Robert B. Pojasek, Ph.D., is the practice leader for Business Sustainability at First Environment Inc. and an internationally recognized authority on the topic of business sustainability and process improvement.

complete article at

See also

and from this blog

A tragedy of errors and misunderstanding


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