Substance, Not Slogans

Robert Pojasek, over at, has posted this useful commentary (which, totally coincidentally, says some nice things about a paper I co-wrote)… “Focus on Substance, Not Slogans, to Strive for Sustainability.” It’s essentially an attempt to enunciate a vision of what social responsibility looks like, minus the catchy jargon.

Here’s Robert’s opening paragraph:

Polling and advertising agencies have been warning us about confusion around the practice of going green. The New York Times has coined the term, “green noise” to describe this confusion. The Wall Street Journal posits that the consumer is becoming more skeptical of green products due to both greenwashing and green noise. It is clear that consumers are inundated with too many issues to be able to understand all of them….

The whole piece is worth reading.

One example of an overused ‘green’ slogan, according to Robert is the “Triple Bottom Line” idea. Regular readers will know that I think the Triple Bottom Line jargon is badly misleading. I’ve blogged about it several times (see here and here, for example) and co-authored a scholarly critique.

Interestingly, Robert says that, in his experience, our criticism of the Triple Bottom Line “makes the people that use the TBL phrase angry.” That may be true, but that anger (or even disagreement) has seldom found its way into print. I know of only one published response (by Moses Pava) to our criticism. If the Triple Bottom Line is so popular (as it still seems to be) where are its defenders? I’m sure most of them simply haven’t read our criticism. Others just don’t care, for one reason or another. Some probably doubt the relevance of criticisms authored by philosophers: we’re about “theory,” they’ll say, not “reality.” Which, of course, is a huge cop-out. When the accusation is that the concept you’re using to sell your consulting services — in this case, the Triple Bottom Line — is not just misguided but positively misleading — you either need to defend your use of it, or stop. Otherwise, you’re just selling snake-oil. And that’s quite a result for consultants who claim to be selling ethics.

1 comment so far

  1. […] Triple Bottom Line. Luckily, this one seems to be dying out. The Triple Bottom Line (3BL) is rooted in the very sane idea that business managers should manage not just the financial performance of their companies, but also their social and environmental performance. Unfortunately, the term implies something much bolder, namely that each of those areas of performance can be boiled down to a “bottom line.” And that’s simply not true. (Just try asking a company what their social “bottom line” was last year.) The result is that the term sounds tough-minded, but usually ends up being just the opposite. For more about the problems with 3BL, see here. […]

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