John Elkington is often credited with first coining the term "triple bottom line" in his 1997 book Cannibals with Forks. He defined the triple bottom line as a sustainability framework that examines an enterprise’s social, environment and economic impacts.

In the building design and construction industry there is no shortage of principles, frameworks, methodologies, standards, model codes and rating systems that endeavor to help enterprises balance economic prosperity and preserve (or perhaps improve) environmental quality. To the degree that social equity or social justice is considered in the broader pursuits of "sustainability," we tend to attribute relatively loose, indirect social impacts and implications from balancing the other two legs of triple bottom line table. Even Elkington observed the short shrift given to social equity over two decades ago. However, this may finally be starting to change.

With the emergence of "resilience" over the past decade, there has been an increasing focus on redefining the notion of "stakeholders" with regard to business. Moreover, stakeholder engagement and greater corporate transparency have been increasingly prioritized by business.

While there is a plethora of models that support the balance of current markets with environmental imperatives, considerations of social responsibility are relatively less defined, which may cause them seem seem too abstract and nebulous to respond to with clear, formalized strategies and key performance indicators (KPIs).

This need no longer be the case. For years, there has been a growing groundswell of international cooperation among a network of organizations focused on helping enterprises define appropriate pathways toward greater social responsibility. Consider the following:


United Nations Global Compact

The United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) is a non-binding United Nations pact to encourage businesses worldwide to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies, and to report on their implementation. The UNGC is a principle-based framework for businesses, stating 10 principles in the areas of human rights, labor, the environment and anti-corruption. Under the Global Compact, companies are brought together with UN agencies, labor groups and civil society.

Read more about the UN Global Compact:

Read more about the UNGC's ten principles:


UN Sustainable Development Goals

The United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone, everywhere. The 17 SDGs were adopted by all UN Member States in 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which set out a 15-year plan to achieve the goals.

Read more the SDGs:

This is also a white paper that defines the philosophical and practical connections between the UNGC Ten Principles and the SDGs:


ISO Standard 26000:2010 Guidance on Social Responsibility

ISO 26000 provides guidance on how businesses and organizations can operate in a socially responsible manner. The standard identifies seven core subjects with regard to social responsibility: human rights, labor practices, the environment, fair operating practices, consumer issues, community involvement and development, and organizational governance. The standard offers a framework for integrating social responsibility throughout an organization by conducting activities in an ethical and transparent way that contributes to the health and welfare of society.

Read more about ISO 26000:


The Earth Charter

The Earth Charter Initiative developed the Earth Charter as an international declaration of fundamental values and principles considered useful by its supporters for building a just, sustainable and peaceful global society. The Charter's ethical vision proposes that environmental protection, human rights, equitable human development, and peace are interdependent and indivisible. The Charter endeavors to provide a framework for enterprises to address these issues.

Read more about the Earth Charter:


A Clear Vision in 2020

Corporate social and environmental responsibility (CSER) has led to integrating sustainability KPIs into traditional enterprise modeling, which in turn has given rise to corporate sustainability reporting (CSRs)—now recognized by LEED and other systems. With the emergence of resilience this past decade, it would seem that the undercurrents of sustainability are poised to finally elevate social responsibility to a truly equal tier as economic prosperity and environmental quality as we collectively pursue various 2030 goals for sustainable development in the decade ahead (including the 2030 Challenge, which is set to 80 percent starting in 2020).

May the triple bottom line finally be realized.