Human Capital: The “People” Part of the Triple Bottom Line

The triple bottom line is one of the principles of sustainable business that gives weight not just to making a profit, but also to being responsible for how a business impacts people and the planet. In short, it looks at people, planet, and profit in all business considerations.

The financial component is the one that we are most familiar with, because it has traditionally been the only part that a company has to be concerned about. The concept of natural capital has gained increased attention as we realize that many of the natural resources we take for granted are not going to be around forever.

The “people” part is really about human capital – the people who actually carry out the work of the company, as well as the people who are impacted by the company (this is the part that puts the “social responsibility” in CSR, corporate social responsibility).

Putting People First

Many forward-thinking companies look at how to really value their people. Perhaps one of the most important developments has been the emergence of B Corps, which expands the concept of shareholders to consider all stakeholders – basically everyone touched by the business, including employees, customers, suppliers, and community members.

Other examples of companies that are putting people first include:

  • Zappos, which CEO Tony Hsieh has famously built around employee happiness.
  • Semco, a Brazilian company that has implemented innovative workplace practices, including allowing workers to set their own salaries, as the “Caring Capitalist” video explains.
  • Clif Bar, the food company with 5 aspirations, two of which relate directly to “Working side-by-side, encouraging each other, our Company is our people” and “Promoting healthy, sustainable communities, locally and globally.”

Companies that put people first realize that it’s good for business. Some early research suggests that green businesses may have happier employees – employee productivity may actually increase when people feel good about the sustainability initiatives of the company that they work for.

What Does This Mean for Your Business?

Remember that your business is all about people. Who is touched by your business?

Obviously, employees and customers are, but what about others, such as the people who live in the community where your raw materials are originally extracted? Then ask yourself, “How can my business impact them in a positive way?” Some ways to do this are to implement employee engagement programs, partner with a non-profit in your local community, and ensure that any work that you outsource is done with full respect to the human rights of the workers.

The more that you can do this, the more that you will build goodwill and loyalty among the people who make your business possible. In turn, this will help your business to be sustainable for the long-term.

Next Steps

The best way to assess how you’re doing on the human side of the triple bottom line is to take the B Impact Assessment. This will help you to evaluate your company’s practices in areas ranging from employee engagement to involvement with your local community.