Getting to the Bottom of “Triple Bottom Line”

Business Ethics Quarterly 14 (2):243-262 (2004)
Abstract
In this paper, we examine critically the notion of “Triple Bottom Line” accounting. We begin by asking just what it is that supporters of the Triple Bottom Line idea advocate, and attempt to distil specific, assessable claims from the vague, diverse, and sometimescontradictory uses of the Triple Bottom Line rhetoric. We then use these claims as a basis upon which to argue (a) that what issound about the idea of a Triple Bottom Line is not novel, and (b) that what is novel about the idea is not sound. We argue on bothconceptual and practical grounds that the Triple Bottom Line is an unhelpful addition to current discussions of corporate social responsibility. Finally, we argue that the Triple Bottom Line paradigm cannot be rescued simply by attenuating its claims: the rhetoric isbadly misleading, and may in fact provide a smokescreen behind which firms can avoid truly effective social and environmental reporting and performance
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