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Cannibals with forks

I am working with a client at present who came to K&H with a specific request for help in developing Triple Bottom Line (TBL) reporting for their start-up business. They had struggled to find advisers who were sympathetic to TBL, or even aware of it.

To help me understand the issues,  I read a book called Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business.

TBL is about reporting on a business performance in three areas: People, Planet, as well as Profit (hence sometimes known as the 3 Ps). This book sets out to explain all the relevant issues and challenges involved in moving business from being purely about maximising shareholder value (including ‘cannibalistic’ M&A activity and ultra competitive strategies) to a broader-based, integrated set of objectives.

I realised after reading the first page that this book was written 13 years ago and so many of the stories and examples of business practices and the facts and figures are very out of date. However, the underlying philosophy is surprisingly unchanged and it was disappointing to me that we seem to have moved forward so little in these 13 years.

The book helped clarify and define for me many of the concepts and ideas in TBL thinking and in creating sustainable businesses. Some that I highlighted were:

  • Cradle to cradle: like cradle to grave only with recycling/reusing
  • Co-opetition: working with competitors for the customer’s benefit for win/win/win
  • Karoshi: Japanese word meaning death caused by work!
  • Full cost pricing (or shadow pricing): the real cost of goods/services allowing for the affect of society and environment
  • Using ‘needs tests’ before letting people buy things (e.g. cars)
  • The need for changes in the VALUES of businesses as a precursor for adopting TBL reporting and principles
  • How globalisation could actually help spread these values.
  • The guidelines for sustainable companies (p 258)
  • Stakeholder (as opposed to shareholder) capitalism
  • New corporate governance paradigms (p 311)
  • Sustainability audit questions (p 375 – 381)

At the back of the book is a useful phrase book of these and many more words and ideas.

I need to read and find out more about:

  • Social Audit Ltd
  • ISO 14001 and EMAs
  • Institute of Social and Ethical Accountability

My feeling is that this book could be half as long and not lose much, and it also badly needs updating – I would then happily recommend it. The issues it raises are crucially important to everyone. I heard on the radio the other day that people have become LESS concerned about environmental issues in recent year! (short-term economic challenges having taken priority, I assume), so it is more important than ever that those of us in business who have an opportunity to set an example do so. At K&H we hope to be able to help everyone in business to demonstrate to the world how seriously they take these issues by using Triple Bottom Line reporting.

If you’d like to see some of the other books I have read and recommended, please see my reading list at Linkedin and sign up to “Watch” my reading list.

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