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Triple Bottom Line

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In his latest piece for WhichPLM, Yotam Solomon (resident Expert) discusses a successful triple bottom line, in this call to action piece to get involved.

A successful triple bottom line (TBL) ideology is the ultimate business goal: generating wellness for everyone, it represents the modern ideas of a utopian society. TBL, also known as 3BL, represents business accountability for social, environmental (ecological), and financial benefits to allow for a greater good. In other terms, creating benefits that surpass conventional revenue growth by supporting monetary profit, people, and our planet. Many corporations have started to add triple bottom line metrics to their business plans in order to evaluate their overall performance and reflect on how companies are contributing to society.

Through my work I help organizations and companies understand how to better evaluate business methods, which they can contribute to their TBL. Metrics are often miscalculated and vary dramatically when based on misleading assumption or even structured on changing laws and regulations. This is the reason why I base metrics on C2C (cradle-to-cradle) standards, relying on the most advanced sustainability methodology. As opposed to recyclability standards, following fully renewable and natural C2C guidelines has great TBL benefits. In most cases, recyclable products generate waste and do not support our ecological environment. This is why I provide crucial information to companies before they conduct major changes in their practices, transforming businesses and creating a successful TBL.

Unfortunately, TBL is not standardized and companies view progress in different metrics – as there is no industry consensus. Aside from overall metrics, basic terminology has yet to be fully agreed upon due to the lack of standardization of sustainable and eco-friendly practices. We have yet to fully define terms of ‘zero emissions’ or ‘zero waste’ and even ‘true sustainability’. Regulatory law is not enforced for the basic definition of words and terms that have yet to achieve exact industrial consensus. This lack of vocabulary consensus is influencing differentiating between hazardous unnatural waste and renewable waste such as natural debris. After all, natural debris must be an organic material that is naturally found in a specific place in the planet, whether it is a mineral, plant matter, gas, or liquid. A simple example is that you wouldn’t spill beach sand on a snowy mountaintop; from an environmental prospective you should not allow displacing any natural debris. Industry term standardization is a crucial and necessary step that must be achieved internationally.

It is essential for corporations to consult on innovation, labor ethics, and sustainability. This is why I work with companies to greatly enhance business planning and reduce increasing long-term costs. Delaying logistical improvements results in higher costs as time progresses and directly disservices a successful TBL. In order to comply with recent code and regulatory mandates, many corporations generate minor improvements to production operations. These seemingly ethical actions are unknowingly damaging and carry heavy costs for retrofitting of machinery and operations overtime. In many cases, companies have to repeat retrofitting efforts as the modifications only meet minimal regulatory needs instead of future implantation needs. Corporations require consultants to create milestone agenda to best address complete C2C retrofitting for best operations and fully sustainable practices, reducing costs, and gaining tax rebates.

Sourcing appropriate materials and goods for production directly contributes to the success of a TBL; these operations go beyond the work of procurement and innovation departments. As experts have yet to determine the full implications of synthetic replacements to real leather, the big argument in fashion revolves around genuine leather production versus patent leather. Genuine leather can be farmed organically, though we know that the animal farming industry is not fully complying with animal protection laws or protecting our environment. We also know that animal production consumes water in excess when compared to the production of synthetic leathers. Yet, synthetic materials use many modern chemicals and yield high usage of oil products that generate a non-recyclable and non-renewable product. Leather, on the other hand, is a fully renewable product if farmed organically, ethically, dyed, and processed through low-impact and sustainable manufacturing methods. Recently, Modern Meadow’s creation of Zoa (organic leather, created in a lab without animal production) is changing the way we view organic leather production. Zoa is completely eliminating the negative effects that animal farming has on leather production. Aside from the natural versus syntactic based leather production argument, there are filaments and fibers that carry the same argument. The fact is that 85% of clothing in the U.S. goes into landfill; this fact is extremely nettling and deeming to our current standards. Creating jobs, aiding workers, and supporting a local community are all critical factors in the longevity of a successful TBL. Labor salaries impact billions of people and directly effect social change. In the U.S., domestic blue-collar wages dropped by nearly 30% in the last few decades and in developing countries salaries do not sustain basic meal costs for factory workers.

Fair trade has never been so unfair.

Unfortunately, in most cases, current working conditions and salaries are not projected to change and are continuously on the decline. How can an industry create a meaningful impact and increase wages by fighting fast fashion trends and a lowered price-point demanded by consumer competition? This is one of the most significant catalysts of our generation; how can a global labor force be paid well and be fully supported by companies? Aside from lowered wages, some manufacturing jobs are completely eliminated as modern production methods replace conventional worker labor. In many cases, labor workers are provided with basic benefits such as health insurance, pension plans, and even occupational safety training domestically. The same cannot be said for developing countries, which do not have labor unions or proper employment regulations. These issues directly correspond with the lack of consensus in international jurisdiction. Labor workers are often not supported by their own governments as minimum wages and working condition regulations favor corporate growth while undermining worker conditions. Caring for workers is an essential part of a successful TBL, but preponderance of labor workers are not supported or paid properly.

Corporations should rethink ethical production by realizing a full potential of artisanal and hand made goods. Many consumers prefer to purchase products that have handcrafted elements in contemporary and luxury markets.  Consumers also seek eco-friendly products. It is important to rethink how we view laws and regulations by looking at the entire equation. TBL methodology should not be simply accomplished or gained; it is created to inspire new thinking and better our global community as a whole. Supporting a community is an ever-changing task; we know that market demand influences vocations and so does generational change. Laws and regulations are simple guidelines but not the answer; we collectively create answers and need to listen to different opinions in all parts of the chain of command. Ethical operations vary dramatically depending on a personal point of view, just as quality of life is viewed differently in certain parts of the world. This is why environmental/labor laws and standards are important: they support a local community and directly reflect on our global economy as a collective.

A successful TBL pertains to effectively improving the conditions of people and our environment, while supporting a sustainable profit cycle. It may seem like an easy task but for many manufacturing companies fast demand and low cost trends have been reducing profit margins that heavily influence existing operations. Companies that produce physical products face a serious issue as profit margins decrease, production costs increase, while overhead costs skyrocket. Addressing retrofit costs seems like an impossible task considering decreased profits, but corporations are legally forced to invest in upgrades. How can corporations increase salaries when facing increased costs and declined profit? This is the first time in history that companies need to think about environmental implications and the ways in which they directly support employees. By embracing change and thinking ahead of the game, companies that allow for appropriate planning will survive this changing landscape.

This is a call for action: get involved, take advice, and listen to your team while rethinking the impact of a truly successful TBL.

Yotam Solomon Yotam Solomon is a fashion designer and product developer focusing on cradle-to-cradle (C2C) innovation in apparel and footwear. Yotam draws inspiration from the natural environment; he has designed collections based on the Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico and on the relationship between prescribed drugs and its effect on our DNA.His approach to design goes beyond the aesthetic of a product; it’s about supporting people, building an economy, and preserving and enriching our natural resources. By working with mass manufacturers and smaller production houses, Yotam initiated new research and development projects to eliminate toxic chemicals from today’s manufacturing process.Yotam brings insight about the relationship between sustainable design and the purchasing habits of the end consumer, and serves on our Expert panel as a sustainable fashion design expert.