The Triple Bottom Line is a guiding force for the Business As Mission (BAM) movement. This is the first of a 3-part series briefly examining the meaning of each of the three bottom lines that drive BAM businesses, starting with Triple Bottom Line #1:
The goal of a BAM business is to be profitable and sustainable.
For most of the 20th century businesses and MBA programs would answer the question, “What is the goal of your business?” with a simple response, “to maximize shareholder value” or “to make a profit”.
However, the real goal of business is more importantly to serve others and bring glory to God. The original purposes of God are evidenced in the Creation Mandate that he is a God of enterprise, creativity and production – for His glory. From the first human couple until now, God intended creation to grow and expand as mankind began to produce food, distribute food, build, manufacture and trade goods. The fundamental function of creating wealth is intended to be a “high and holy calling”. Van Duzer expresses the purpose of business as two-fold:
- “To provide the community with goods and services that will enable it to flourish” and
- “To provide opportunities for meaningful work that will allow employees to express their God-given creativity.”1
Clearly the command of Jesus to “engage in business until I come” (Luke 19:13) carried with it the expectation of a profit. Business is the only human institution which actually creates wealth. Education, the Church, and government all consume wealth. Business creates it! “But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who give you the ability to produce wealth.” (Deut. 8:18)
While it is true that profit can be abused as with any good thing, profit is a necessary and important component in adding value, providing good stewardship and multiplying resources as a way of helping people. Profit is that which results from a business which generates value and expands the total economic pie. “Profit is a sign that others are being served effectively, not that advantage is being taken of them.” 2 Profit is a necessary condition if we are able to continue to provide value to customers. Profit, however it is not the goal.
In recent years, many business people have come to the conclusion that there is a wider purpose of business. One of those leaders, John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, puts it this way: “The purpose of business is to create sustainable value for all stakeholders.” (See his recent coauthored book, Conscious Capitalism). Mackey and others are focusing on the dignity of all their stakeholders, not just the shareholders. They want to make a difference, seek a common good, and make the world a better place. This idea is incorporated in the modern trend toward CSR – Corporate Social Responsibility.
Traditionally development agencies, churches and governments have focused on providing aid to poor countries. While there is a place for aid and disaster relief, aid will never alleviate poverty and these are rarely self-sustaining projects. When funding dries up or interest declines the “false market” which created dependency is exposed and more problems often develop than were solved. Only investing in sustainable profitable businesses creates employment and true economic development for poor countries. Check out the excellent video from Poverty Cure entitled “From Aid to Enterprise.”
As IBEC consultants coach, mentor and contribute their expertise, the goal of profitability and sustainability is Triple Bottom Line #1. Our goal is that the business can outlast our involvement, be based on Kingdom values and can contribute to the sustainable transformation of individuals, their families and entire communities.
“Business as Mission is about business with a Kingdom of God perspective, purpose and impact.” Business as Mission Issue Group, Lausanne, 2004.
“Managers must convert society’s needs into opportunities for profitable businesses.” Peter F. Drucker
“Many assume, wrongly, that a company exists simply to make money…Profit is not the proper end and aim of management – it is what makes all of the proper ends possible.” David Packer. Cofounder, Hewlett-Packard.
“Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever he does.” Saint Paul.
“I believe the only long-term solution to world poverty is business. That is because businesses produce goods, and businesses produce jobs. And businesses continue producing goods year after year, and continue providing jobs and paying wages year after year…if we are ever going to see long-term solutions to world poverty, I believe it will come through starting and maintaining productive, profitable businesses.” Wayne Grudem – Business for the Glory of God.
Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures