?> bottom line | almost an M

bottom line


Had a great time last night meeting people, hearing stories, sharing with and learning from others at the Engage@Work forum who are seeking to live out the whole gospel by seeing their work as part of the expression of their faith. The goal of the night was to begin to raise some questions about what this might look like. Special attention was given to what it may look like to conduct business in light of the triple bottom line.

For any readers that may be familiar with the idea of the bottom line, but unfamiliar with where it comes from, this is simply a number that comes from the Income Statement (some refer to this as a profit and loss statement). It is the remaining number (“in the black”) at the bottom that is calculated by taking revenues (green) and subtracting out expenses (“in the red”). Naturally, companies and individuals (and yes, even governments eventually) must pay attention to the bottom line. But the question arises, is that enough? Is making money all that business or life is about?

Socrates stated that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” I would offer that evaluating business from a triple bottom line (TBL) is an attempt to do this examination thing for a business entity. And that, I would offer, is a very good thing. A TBL approach will evaluate whether or not a company is achieving their objectives in profit, people (this may include but is not limited social justice) and place (such as environmental issues, city beautification, etc.).

In extending the conversation, I would propose that doing TBL evaluation can be unwieldy. Still important conceptually, just difficult. I have seen businesses seeking to implement some dashboard metrics that included TBL issues, and found evaluation difficult because of the multiple outcomes. To aid in this, I would offer that it would be ideal to incorporate having an impact on people and/or place in the business plan as key factors that would be able to be key in our ability to also drive the monetary bottom line. Some good examples of this would include TOMS and Land of a Thousand Hills. If there is a big idea that resonates as true and worthwhile with others, then it should give a competitive advantage when all other things are equal. Even when other things such as price or ease of access are not equal, it may still give a distinct benefit that will help drive the old-fashioned bottom line.

Historically, businesses that have sought to do good have primarily done that through charitable giving. This avenue is still healthy and has great merit. But finding ways to incorporate being a blessing to others and/or to the creation we are to steward are definitely worthwhile pursuits to incorporate into business plans and practices.

Sent as Christ was sent, we are, I would offer, sent as the wise ones (among other things). So, what say you wise ones? What do we do with the TBL as we seek to live out the gospel?

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Categories : business as mission


  1. Bill Lewis says:

    Good World Class (secular) companies view the bottom line much as the TBL concept you propose..So why would we NOT consider all aspects as believers operating inside commerce around the world? I have encouraged all of my customers to seriously consider “What do we want to be” 1) in our industry 2) in our community and 3) to each other. This should not be just a plesant thought or a passing conversation, but rather part of a well thought out strategic plan. Example( 5 year plan)…a. how much do we want to grow the business each year..b. What markets will we target for growth and by how much c. How will we maintain a 15% operating income.
    d. how will we maintain a world class customer satisfaction reputation e. How will we insure world class employees and d. How will we grow our positive impact in the communities in which we operate.

    Each of the above MUST be measurable. Some may struggle with being able to measure “good will” efforts in a community, but it CAN be done. I would recommend reading Peter Druckers book on Managing the Non-Profit to get some insights on how to measure the bottom line when there is no bottom line. It is my opinion that any BAM activity will soon become irrelevant in the community if they are not seeking the TBL approach or something simalier. As followers of The Way, we should be the best at knowing how to take profit ($$) and having an impact in the other areas described with the TBL concept.

  2. almost says:

    Thanks for your comments and listing of questions you put in front of companies. I agree that “As followers of The Way, we should be the best at knowing how to take profit ($$) and having an impact in the other areas….” Because of this inspired creativity, I suggest we find ways to align more of the people and place metrics into our business strategy. This will make for more successful business ventures and provide opportunities for others to observe and begin to realize that indeed our God does reign.

  3. JC says:

    One of the traditional meanings of the “bottom line” has been “the ultimate measure of performance” or for some people and organizations the ultimate measure of success. This of course derives from what we read in the initial explanation in this thread. So, I would like to raise some questions for prayerful consideration, using that idea.

    Yesterday I had the opportunity to hear a remarkable story by a talented design engineer who at mid-career realized he was not making much of a real impact for the Kingdom. Through a series of painful, life-threatening events, he began to ask the question, “Why would the Lord keep me around if I am not contributing to His bottom line?” According to his account, he soon found himself with an unexpected opportunity to use his significant talent in a business enterprise whose leadership was seeking what might be considered a Christian’s “triple bottom line” as discussed above by others.

    One of my business friends who was benefiting from this discussion raised three questions for me (and now you) to consider.

    1. “Suppose you have 500 Christian friends, many of them professionals or business people. How many have ever had the privilege of knowing God has specifically chosen, developed and then called them to have a significant role in His eternal purpose?” Answer: Maybe 5 out of 500.

    2. “Of those who are among the ‘many are called, but few are chosen’, those 5 you mentioned, how many would be likely to decline the opportunity, knowing that their lives would never be the same, that the way would be uncertain and perhaps risky? Answer: 4 out of 5

    3. “You answered ‘here am I send me’ and apparently have not regretted that for a moment. You are in a business enterprise that brings a real product/service to target markets where the gospel message is scarce. You not only make a reasonable profit doing this, you are setting up ‘franchises’ among Christians in these markets so that they can contribute to the economy and society and multiply your impact. What I want to know is HOW do you and your franchisees insure that the OPPORTUNITY to use your business to get the gospel message into the hearts and minds of men actually HAPPENS. How do you translate “good works” into men and women having the opportunity to live eternally with the King?”

  4. almost says:

    JC – the third question posed is haunting. I have been chewing on this one for a few days now. It seems that the idea of “insuring” that others take the opportunity that a business model presents is difficult at best. Yet for someone like yourself to put everything to this for this purpose and not see it being utilized is not acceptable either. This is a very difficult question and part of the challenge with evaluating the triple bottom line. Finding ways to incorporate multiple aspects of the bottom line seem ideal in this arena moving forward, but is that always doable? Further, I would ask what aspects of the TBL are able to be incorporated into metrics for evaluation or an item for reporting.

  5. JC says:


    Yes, well maybe the best we can do is “almost?” Still leaves us with a continuum, doesn’t it? As I think about other areas of life and that part of life we call work, I am faced with the same issue. How much is enough? For a simple example, consider giving. Having been in several parts of the world where folks have very little materially, I am aware that there are always some who have less than even the very poor. So think about that quite poor person who is confronted by someone who is really destitute. How much should the poor person give? Should he destitute his family? Should he be concerned about the end results of his giving? Clearly this issue of stewardship spans all parts of life and is the core of our question when we think about leading men and women to create organizations that are aimed at Kingdom impact. I think Almost is right – we cannot just ignore the question because I assume we are accountable not just for effort but for results. I don’t think we can be happy with “it is the thought that counts.” The football player says, “I will give it all for my team, 110% every practice, every game. I will not walk off that field unless I left it all out there.” We admire such words of dedication and self-sacrifice because they sound similar to “he who would lose his life for my sake shall find it.” I can already hear the call for “balance” and rational realism. Of course the TBL requires “balance” because you cannot give 100% to any of the triple. Aha, maybe we are supposed to give 33.33333333% to each? Almost has pointed out that this is not a philosophical issue when he brings in the issue of measurement. Anyone else want to weigh in on this dilemma?

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