I believe in the near future, the idea of a triple bottom line – or ‘social’ – company won’t be a novel way to operate a business, but rather the standard by which all companies operate. Those who do not will have to justify why they do not. Our kids will be confused why there were companies that didn’t focus on all stakeholders, not just their financial ones. The data is mounting that proves that a company can make their target profits without negatively impacting the environment, work conditions, local communities, or social causes. It’s a bandwagon that already welcomes jumpers on:
Not everyone agrees on what being a social/responsible/green company means. World renowned expert Muhammad Yunus who popularized the term “Social Business” doesn’t believe investors should make profits (profits are only re-invested back into the company/cause); large companies suffice to have CSR departments and reduce their impact as a side project, which is not central to their business; other companies make a strong localized impact but don’t necessarily make impressive returns by adopting the “buy this because it helps, not because you actually like the product” model; other companies like TOMS, or Method have a social mission that is central to their business model and consumer appeal (incidentally, that’s where Thread self-identifies).
When we started Thread, after years of hearing about triple bottom line companies in the business media, I assumed we would join a large crowd of accepted businesses and business models…that we would have to elbow out space and prove we were different from other do-good companies. But what we’ve found- especially in Pittsburgh where we are headquartered- is that while people have heard of and abstractly like the idea social enterprise, many are not quite ready to get on the bandwagon – whether that means investing or simply believing this growing class of companies can be just as profitable and successful as a company that didn’t make their impact a priority.
Surprisingly, as a new company we have found ourselves in a position to evangelize and educate just about anyone who will listen…investors, bankers, service providers, unsuspecting elevator passengers, students, press… and don’t plan on stopping until the general public believes what we do: That adhering to a standard of a triple bottom line shouldn’t be novel, it should be common practice.