The Triple Bottom line
ARTICLES, SPEECHES AND OTHER READING
THE TRIPLE BOTTOM LINE
Corporate Responsibility Insures Sustained Profitability
Australian Institute of Company Directors - Brisbane
May 11, 2004
I don't understand why anybody
wants to listen to a Ling Yai - that's Thai for Big Monkey, but thank you
for inviting me.
I'm quite proud of that Ling Yai moniker for two reasons.
First, my staff gave it to me, and that tells me we've got a great
professional relationship that allows such liberties, unheard of in
Second, Ling Yai actually started 53 years when my Mama told me I was a
miracle, a marvelous human machine so special I could do anything I wanted
to do - even fly to the moon - as long as I never forgot I am nothing but an
In short, as special as we humans are, we are still primates, subject to our
own set of imperfections - and arrogance is #1. Unfortunately, arrogance is
all too common - and a devastating weakness. Arrogance allows us to forget
that we are still animals, and once we lose touch with Nature, once we
insulate ourselves from those we perceive as "beneath" us, we lose our sense
of balance. And when we lose our balance, strange things happen.
The concept of Corporate Responsibility balances our arrogance. It forces us
to survey our environments - business, natural, personal - and consider the
consequences of our actions. The Triple Bottom Line - social, environmental,
financial - demands scientific management. It isn't easy, and is sometimes a
threat to short term profitability, but it forces us to think, making us
You are all progressive and competent managers who study and practice
Corporate Responsibility - I started was writing about it in the 70's, same
concepts, different buzzwords. I'm not going to bore you with concept
definitions or claim the sky is falling, but if a Big Monkey is possible of
intellectual thought, I'm going to try to stimulate some today.
I'm approaching 60, and through an accident of birth, I lived in exciting
and colorful times so I'm just going to recount some milestones, because I
want you to do the same. This room is full of remarkable people, and I only
wish I were one of you. I know you have your own stories, so let's take a
hike through life together.
When I swam in the sea in 1945, it was pure, clean and bountiful. When I
went albacore fishing in my teens, the ocean went frothing to the horizon. A
tuna feeding frenzy is an amazing sight, or should I say it was. Today, 90%
of the World's big fish are gone. Fisheries are so depleted there isn't much
hope for the ones that still remain.
On my first camping trip in 1949, the Sierra Nevada's still smelled like
Pine cones and fresh air. We drank from the fast moving stream.
I was 10 in 1955. During Los Angeles' "Smog Alerts" we couldn't play in the
schoolyard because it hurt to take a deep breath. I couldn't see the
mountains from the foothills. It seemed like the sky was falling, and I
asked my teachers why we didn't do something about it.
Every afternoon the Audubon society delivered their war orphans to our house
- several hundred birds, nests , eggs and any other animal unlucky enough to
come in contact with humans in rapidly expanding L. A. It seemed like war to
me. I learned that animals are people too, and the human animal was in fact
waging war on the Animal Kingdom, and all of Nature. Lofty thoughts for a 10
year old who played with the animals.
In 1960 I was curious about the Communist Boogie Man, so I read Das Kapital
and The Communist Manifesto. Marx offered interesting insights, but he
wasn't a manager. Karl's impractical solutions simply went against human
I decided the Communist Boogie Man was an unrealistic Bogus Man and my
country was into mass hysteria. Why worry about Russia and China when the
greatest threat came from within. Capitalism wasn't that great either.
Economics is central to society, and the best available option had many
Armed with my skepticism in capitalism, my student business club elected me
company president. I got into the game. In 1961 my Junior Achievement
company won many awards and I was President of the Year. My Annual report
won a national contest to the New York Stock Exchange where the Exchange
President presented me with a Bull and Bear tie clasp on the floor of the
Exchange. I will never forget the pandemonium, a feeding frenzy that makes
I was the first person I knew to fly a jet air liner and tie clasp was a
nice souvenir. In those days, I still wore ties.
In 1964, Mr. Stock Exchange went to jail for stock manipulations, setting
the stage for Enron and WorldCom. I realized I had actually embraced the
hand of greed and arrogance. For the next ten years, I watched a small
humble man from Asia tear apart the most powerful nation on Earth - by
attacking its arrogance. Today, it's déjà vu all over again.
In 1977, about three months into my real business career, I pigeonholed
James Gary, chairman of Pacific Resources, at a Hawai'i Employers Council
function. My job was cocktail party photography, his was managing one of
America's largest corporations, but I boldly introduced my self and
immediately asked "Why isn't the nation's 7th largest energy company into
This time, capitalism worked. PRI Solar hot water was born, Congress passed
a Five-Year tax exemption, and hundreds of thousands of American homes saved
on their taxes and energy bills, consuming 40% less energy in solar hot
water homes. Pacific Resources made a nice profit and I got tremendous inner
Everybody won, especially PRI shareholders. Today, PRI is something else,
but I still smile every time I see Australian's Solar hart logo - it's
everywhere I go.
Two years later, I went back to PRI with my new idea - solar roof panels.
Instead of putting a field of solar panels on to of an existing roof, why
not just O-ring the panels so they are watertight, make the roof itself from
silicon cells? PRI loved the idea - and reported back that the idea was
already patented, and the holders were sitting on it. Why drastically reduce
fossil fuel consumption in return for one small roof sale? There's true
capitalism at work for you. Tell it to the Great Barrier Reef.
A quarter of a century later, I couldn't wait to bring in the new millennium
by kayaking my favorite reef anywhere - Gilan'gila Bay in Fiji's rarely
visited Lau group. In 1998, the coral was so remote even the lobsters
weren't afraid. Gilan'gila knew no human impact whatsoever. My video footage
was a rainbow of color extending to the horizon.
But when I returned in 2001 I paddled an alien spaceship over a dead planet.
The coral shapes remain, but the colors were gone, covered with a constant
carpet of brown algae. No fish remained, no life in the coral, and not one
kingfisher above water. On the surface, the sea looked the same but below,
it was dead.
It felt like driving past a car wreck and realizing the carnage was my
family. I was devastated - and I still am. After my initial shock, I
realized that global warming was the culprit. This event was bound to
reoccur throughout the tropics, with no hope of stopping it. In fact, fried
reef is gaining popularity.
Gilan'gila Bay was just the tip of my personal iceberg. I didn't have to
call NOAA to recognize global warming, but I did anyway. They confirmed that
for two months only, Gilan'gila Bay's water was 1/10 of one degree
centigrade higher than coral can withstand, and the reef fried. The damage
As I speak, The Australian Institute of Marine Science reports that the
Great Barrier Reef - and many others throughout the South Pacific - is
experiencing another "extensive" coral bleaching for the second time in four
years. On paper, there are solutions, but given the human psyche, the
problem is unsolvable.
I've known since my first Smog Alert that we are the real culprits - we are
all consumers within the market economy. Until we massage the system, and
our own personal values, we will never stop the computer projections - and
they don't lie. We have about 50 years of watching the Reef die before our
next milestone - catastrophic climate change. The processes are already
underway. The bad news is that just like Gilan'gila Bay, the damage is
probably irreversible for at least several centuries.
A recent study claims Rapid Climate Change will have profound effects on
World Economy and Security - European Ice Ages as soon as 2020, droughts in
Australia, mass starvations and Fortress America.
This isn't a liberal think tank talking; this report comes straight from the
Pentagon, and is addressed to the Man Who Cannot Read.
The phrase "Profound Effects on World Economy and Security" gets my
attention. It certainly should get yours. And as Corporate Directors, you
have to look the Triple Bottom Line squarely in the eye. It is your
obligation to your stockholders to protect their investment.
My academic friends call me a fool, but I don't believe in Doomsday. I
believe there are always solutions, but we need a few thousand more years of
human evolution before common good replaces maximizing profits. We don't
have the luxury of time to reinvent the entire economic system, and changing
our own personal values are the most difficult challenge of all.
We are only starting to realize that our backs are against the wall.
Survival has a unique impact upon us animals, and it's time to move into
survival mode - before the Great Barrier Reef becomes Gilan'gila Bay
But it's difficult to sit in the opulent comfort of the Brisbane Club and
think survival - that's a long way off. To be realistic, we aren't going to
change our banking and corporate systems - and personal attitudes - in time
to do any good.
We must look at the comfort zone we call Market Economics, and learn how to
massage this already productive and sometimes efficient system into
accepting Triple Bottom Line thinking as an instrument of sustainable
profitability. Like it or not, the role of business is more than maximizing
profits. We have to consider the long-term implications of our actions, we
must become involved citizens of the Planet, and we have to recognize the
power and impact of our corporate actions. We must balance profits, social
responsibility and environmental responsibility - or look for another home.
And the Reef won't let you ignore the issue.
I firmly believe that when we "Do the Right Thing", good things happen. In
the Corporate system, good things are defined as "Return on Investment", so
for the past 30 years, I've seen the Triple Bottom Line as basic common
I'm just a Big Monkey, but I had some great mentors along the way.
Hawai'i will always be my home. The Island State is a "small Town" - the
entire state's population is only 1/3 of Brisbane - yet we are headquarters
for several Fortune 500 companies. It's a land of remarkable beauty and a
living indigenous culture. I came to Alohaland at the invitation of
indigenous and activist Hawaiians, yet thanks to my marketing and media
efforts, I was fortunate enough to work with some remarkable Triple-Bottom
Line managers - in the 1970's. These visionaries certainly made their
shareholders happy, but they also taught me the importance of reinforcing
profitability with a sophisticated process called Triple Bottom Line. These
leaders didn't see the corporation as simply a money-making machine, they
understood that their organizations are an integral part of society, and to
be responsible participants of that society, the corporation must consider
its social and environmental responsibility as part of the profit.
Not surprising, they discovered that when scientific management is applied
to include the entire corporate environment, profitability and
sustainability is actually enhanced.
I am nothing but the pipeline for their ideas and ideals, and only hope I
honor them in accuracy and spirit.
Doc Stryker came to Dillingham Corporation after a career as Vice President
- Public Relations of Kodak - back in the days when cameras used film.
Remember film? I was a young idealist writing about "Enlightened Human
Resources" for the Hawai'i Employers Council, an organization similar to
yours. Doc's first lesson for the Big Monkey was "Everything about Public
Relations is directly related to profitability."
Doc Stryker is a true humanitarian, birdwatcher and co-founder of Hawai'i
Nature Conservancy, but in his mind, there is no triple bottom line - social
and environmental responsibility are basic common sense, and everything
answers to profitability. Our ultimate responsibility is to our
I agree. If they trust us with their money, we are obligated to answer with
a generous return.
Returning to Maui with his Stanford degree, Willie Cannon started at Bank of
Hawai'i as a teller. I knew him as the Aloha shirt banker, and never saw him
in a coat and tie. When somebody asked Willie how such a nice Maui boy
became Chairman of a major bank, Willie replied "I never played politics or
climbed up anybody back. I simply do a good job and made everybody around me
happy - customers, fellow workers, and eventually shareholders."
Willie was so busy I had trouble clearing his media releases, so he told me
to just get them into print as long as I called at 7AM to tell him what he
said before the shareholders called. When Willie died unexpectedly, Central
Union Church put speakers on the lawn for the overflow crowd. They weren't
there because Bankoh Corp. was highly profitable. It was something more than
Henry Clark drove his restored Chevy II to C & C's Financial Plaza of the
Pacific, parking in the spot reserved for "Chairman, Castle & Cooke". The
simple car was spotless, got great mileage, and allowed Henry to give, give,
give to the community - but only anonymously. Castle & Cooke was about 240
on the Fortune 500 during Henry's tenure, and Castle & Cooke's home base was
a Garden of Enlightenment thanks to the silent social concern of this giant
of a man. Henry's commitment definitely carried his corporation through
This talk is my tribute to these three great managers. They all recognized
that in tiny Hawai'i, everything in interconnected. Damage to the
environment or the social fabric - or the economic machine - damages
everybody. To these workaholics, environmental and social responsibility
wasn't work, it was basic responsibility.
Thirty years later, the entire world is a small town. The irony is an
exploding population. It took humans a million years to hit 1 billion, 150
years to reach 2 billion - and only 40 more years to hit 6 billion.
Expanding markets are great for profitability - to a point. But our rapidly
expanding population - read "markets" - helps conceal the inefficiencies of
Today, with our backs to the wall, we must ask questions like:
"How will my corporation be impacted when the Great Barrier Reef dies",
"How long before air traffic is reduced because of global warming", and
"What happens to my family when my community is infested with hard drugs?"
In Phuket, the big question is "Which friends will die in traffic accidents
These are serious Triple Bottom Line Issues. Without healthy markets, we
cannot expect healthy profits. And isn't Quality of Life the real issue
Times are always troubled and unpredictable, but events accelerate thanks to
climate changes, overpopulation, epidemiology and technology. The challenges
may be beyond solution - at least until we totally restructure our attitudes
and values. We are all competitive, or we wouldn't be here today.
Shareholders - both individuals and institutional investors - judge your
performance by return on investment. And that's a good thing - I've lived in
societies where there are no dividend checks. Life is very hard.
What I'm suggesting is we look beyond the quarterly dividend check. To enjoy
corporate sustainability - to keep those dividends rolling along - we need
to look at our total environment - natural, social and business. Factoring
Social and Environmental responsibility into the management matrix is our
insurance policy for corporate sustainability.
These days, you folks truly earn your paychecks. Challenges to the
corporation are already enormous - and exploding. Inbound tourism brings
Australia millions of tourists per year, who leave untold revenues. They buy
beer, shop for souvenirs, consume petrol and pay back real estate
But the marine biologists say that in 50 years, only 5% of the Great Barrier
Reef - the essence of Australian National Identity - will remain intact.
Almost every Australian business will be impacted.
Are you factoring this calamity into your strategic planning? Are you really
committed to dealing with the future, or do you simply give it lip service?
The answer lies in your Board meeting minutes - how much time do your Board
meetings devote to social and environmental issues destined to impact the
The issues are staring us in the face, so insurmountable they generate a
mental version of the "Flight or Fight" response. Most of us are still in
the "flight" mode, choosing not to confront green house gases and ozone
Now it's time to "Fight". Is your Board funding environmental and social
study groups, or playing ostrich? Are your planners taking a proactive
approach - looking for solutions? Is your public relations department
targeting institutional investors? Does your economic planning department
have an environmental planner on staff? Do you encourage staff participation
in social service? Do you participate in social service?
Or are you reactive - simply trying to accept an inevitable future?
To confront the issues, we have to break out of "Flight or Fight".
I've had a solar powered boat on the drawing boards for 12 years. The
computer models show 10 knots under solar power, but the concept is
impractical without efficient storage cells. There's economic opportunity
there for somebody, but why bother as long as fossil fuels still propel
Because of flight or fight, human perceptions can't "feel" the issues, but
just like the citizens of Pompeii, we choose to ignore the facts instead of
dealing with them. We ignored those 1950's "Smog Alerts" - just taking a
deep breath was painful. The problem has been hitting us in the chest for at
least 50 years, but humans simply didn't want to deal with it.
Now, you must do something to save your reef - and fast. The Great Barrier
Reef is integral to your national identity, and it's gone in 50 years if
things don't change. For me, the problem is generating enough motivation
find the solution.
The Great Barrier Reef scenario demonstrates why Triple Bottom Line thinking
is just good business. If Australia's corporate sector doesn't come together
and find solutions, Australia's economy, Quality of Life and National Spirit
will suffer. The only safe prediction is that the downside is totally
unpredictable, and the multiplier effect will be greater than any
There is an undefined opportunity for basic sciences solutions, and a
quantifiable opportunity to use your marketing budgets to create awareness
of global warming, emphasizing ways to cut down on consumption. Solar boats,
CO2 break-down, atmospheric scrubbers electric cars, silicon cells and
storage cell technology are all economic opportunities guaranteed to please
shareholders if you strike gold, not to mention spin-offs including positive
national image and international relations and improved domestic quality of
If the technical solutions sound like Jules Verne, that's great. Everything
he wrote eventually came true. Changing human behavior is slow and
difficult, but not impossible. My "Spirit of O'hana" United Way campaigns
captured the imagination of the entire state in the late 70's. It was a
wonderful time to be in Hawai'i. The O'hana campaigns laid a foundation of
co-operation that worked on all fronts.
That was a charitable marketing effort, but the key word is marketing. Don't
be afraid to demonstrate your social and environmental concerns, and use
your marketing dollars to do it. Build brand loyalty in the process, and
smile back when your neighbors and employees thank you for your concern for
But if your commitment is just lip service, don't even try. Us Plebeians
call meaningless environmental messages "Greenwash" and go out of our way to
shun insincerity. And we aren't afraid to spend a bit more to support true
In the late 80's, I chaired the Coastal Resources Steering Committee for the
Hawai'i Marine Master Plan It was an awesome five-year commitment, an
ambitious idea to actually plan the use and protection of Hawai'i's marine
resources and set the standards into law. The true hero was Dr. Craig
McDonald of the Hawai'i Department of Planning and Economic Development.
Craig recruited 125 academics, recreational users, government officials and
business people to participate in his statewide planning concept. We then
enfranchised thousands of people into a totally transparent five-year
planning effort based on citizen participation. Academics were Gods, and
held the ultimate say on environmental impact. There was plenty of
give-and-take, and everybody enfranchised in the effort, we all understood
that concessions were only to benefit the common good.
Do "concessions" and "benefit the common good" make you a bit nervous? Costs
go up and revenue decreases? Well, in the first three year after the Plan
became law, Japan suffered a recession and tourism dropped 42%. Marine
Tourism revenues tripled from US$300 million to US$900 million in the same
tourism slump, the only economic sector to show such positive performance.
So much of this goes on in Australia I'm preaching to the converted. When I
spoke in Perth at a FACET conference, I was impressed with the efficiency
and environmental awareness within Western Australia's Marine and Ecotourism
sectors. From what I've seen in researching this talk, Australia's
conservation and Ecotourism planning and practices are as good as anywhere.
But what you have to do to protect your reef - and the Planet - is set a
bold example of the conservation ethic combined with technological
solutions. That's directly related to your bottom line.
For the progressive scientific manager, my talk today is basic common sense.
Enlightened management is gaining impact, but if we expect to survive as an
economy and as a species, we must expand our focus to include our entire
environment, not simply the "Business Environment".
I'm no so foolish to tell you how to run you companies or your lives, but I
do have some ideas that will make you think.
1 - I love my "Ling Yai" nickname because it makes you embrace the reality -
we are all monkeys, nothing but highly evolved animals. Humans share a basic
arrogance - we feel better than those stupid animals because we can reason.
Arrogance detaches us from our surroundings, and that's when bad things
2 - Get Close To Nature. I'm a wildlife rehabber and I've been talking to
animals for over fifty years. We are just one step up on higher primates,
and some whales have larger vocabularies. On my jungle runs, my dogs are
smarter than I am, and I've got a hundred IQ points on George Bush.
Our gift of reason allows us to be arrogant, and that arrogance is killing
We are the only animal with this capability. Maybe we are the dumbest
animal, not the smartest.
3 - All life is interrelated. See your self - and your corporation - as
interconnected with all things, not just the market, or the regulatory
environment, or your suppliers. When an estuary dies of pollution, a part of
you dies. Just understand it.
4 - Do the Right Thing - It's strange how good deeds are rewarded. Making a
commitment to an issue that doesn't seem related to your business may
eventually become an economic opportunity. Go for it, and be sure to
maintain your values. You - and your shareholders - will be rewarded.
5 - Use Your Workforce - I haven't said much about social responsibility
because I expect that everybody here is into "Enlightened Human Resources."
Because you understand that a corporation is nothing but its people. You
have an honest, hard-working and loyal staff, and if you are really good,
you invest in sharpening your employees' minds and job skills.
Not it's time to return the investment. Share your issues of concern, and
see who has ideas. Give every idea the respect of consideration, no matter
how odd-ball it may seem. I don't have a solution to global warming, but I
guarantee it will be off-the-wall.
Most good staff want to see their team, their corporation, win. By helping
stimulate their minds, you also show you care. Don't be afraid to go down
into the ranks and rub elbows with "The Boys". Creativity harbors
everywhere, and you build loyalty in the process.
6 - Seize the Opportunity - We are only entering strange times - terrorism,
epidemics, global warming - all threaten not only our quality of life but
our survival as a species. Technology shrinks the Global Village as it
creates a population explosion. We open the doors to genetics while our
reefs are dying and jungles disappearing. Life's challenges look like a
top-loader washing machine.
Don't be dismayed. Buckminster Fuller saw these calamities coming in the
30's, and said that the human race will find solutions at the last possible
moment just as a chick breaks out of its shell by pecking off the last of
the egg. Well, now is the time folks. You are just in time to rise the
occasion, turn on the Creativity machine, be a visionary, and use your
corporate resources to save the Planet for all mankind by developing
realistic technical solutions and public awareness.
It's OK to invest in environmental research - or to share funding in a
research institute. It's OK because you are already a creative and
professional visionary - and Ling Yai's mama says you can do it.