What is a Triple Bottom Line Business?

The reason why many of us purpose-driven women choose careers in social justice, non-profit, or international development is because we want to make a truly tangible difference in the world! We want to use our skills and strengths to create positive change for society. We value social consciousness and environmental sustainability, and overall we value people over profit .

Though our hearts are in the right place, every so often we forget how important it is to take care of ourselves and create viable companies. Sometimes we create, or are a part of, businesses that put all resources into the social mission, or give back all proceeds before having enough for operations. This can easily cause us to become burned out or even give up!

So, what’s the solution? How do we create and flourish a viable business that also makes a difference in the world?

I’d love to introduce to you the idea of a “Triple Bottom Line” business. This type of enterprise successfully promotes environmental sustainability, social consciousness, while also making a profit! The model values people, the planet, and profits. Several companies have already even adopted this framework!  PatagoniaSeventh Generation , and  Everlane are just three examples of companies that have created profitable businesses and put an enormous value on making the world a better place.


When creating a Triple Bottom Line business, whether on your own or with a team, try starting with these steps:

1. Recognize your interests and discover your strengths.

Before launching a company, think about what your strengths and interests are and what type of social business would bring you the most joy. Do you love the marketing component, or the fundraising? Would you want to be involved in design, or be a spokesperson and storyteller? Do you love being around people, or do you prefer to be behind the scenes? When you discover which type of business will bring you the most joy, you’re already so much closer to creating a viable and profitable one!

2. Create a viable business first.

When creating a socially-minded business, we can be so focused on making a difference that we forget to create a strong foundation first. Once the business is profitable, then you can focus more heavily on social programs and give back partnerships. So many times, I see social enterprises focus on the cause first and foremost, but then there aren’t enough funds to cover operations or development costs. So the organization fails and then they can’t do any good work at all. From my experience working with fellow change-makers, I’ve found that it’s better to be patient, create a strong base first , and then do your good work in the world.

3. Choose one social cause to focus on.

With so many issues in the world, it’s easy to feel the desire to support each and every cause that’s important to us. From education, to women’s empowerment, to health and human rights, it can be overwhelming trying to choose just one focus. But usually, you’ll see that the most successful organizations have one central cause. This will help focus your marketing efforts and make your mission crystal clear to customers and supporters.


4. Incorporate environmental consciousness.

Whether your main cause is environmentally related or not, in order to be a Triple Bottom Line business, you must value environmental sustainability and create practices that demonstrate it. If you’re an ethical fashion company, you can look into using textile scraps, biodegradable materials, renewable energy sources in your factories, or talk about environmental awareness in your marketing. You can offset carbon emissions on flights, use local materials, and promote zero waste.

If you’re a farm-to-table restaurant, you could source organic produce free of harmful chemical pesticides. Additionally, you could purchase from local farms, reducing emissions and the use of resources needed in transportation and refrigeration. There are always ways to become more environmentally conscious, you just have to figure out what makes sense for you and your business!

5. Use your values as a filter.

As a leader within a business, you will constantly have to make decisions on the direction of the organization, new projects and products to create, and which collaborations to go forward with. Other organizations and individuals will reach out to you with ideas for potential partnerships, and it can be hard to say no when exposure or profits are on the other side of a potential partnership. When you’re clear about your values and the way you want to show up in the world, you can use them as a filter for every potential partnership. If the organization looks amazing but isn’t in line with your values, you already know that it’s a no. Integrity is so important, especially when leading a Triple Bottom Line Business.

No one said creating a socially-minded business would be easy. But if you’re able to find a balance  between people, planet, and profit without sacrificing yourself or your ethics, you’ll be on your way to creating a purposeful, successful social enterprise!

Photos by: Eun Creative

Elisabetta Colabianchi

Elisabetta is the founder of Kurandza, a non-profit that empowers women and girls in eastern Africa and around the world. She is also a social impact consultant and works with purpose-driven women who want to start or grow their non-profit or social enterprise initiatives. Elisabetta speaks 5 languages and enjoys traveling the world when she’s not at home in the San Francisco Bay Area. She loves making new friends, so come say hi to her on Instagram!