Is it time for a quadruple bottom line?

Joanne Jones

Whether you use the words triple bottom line, or people, planet and profit, I really think there is something missing from how we evaluate our sustainability impacts.  What about our  impact on our customers?  It is my opinion that the customer or “patrons” is missing from the triple bottom line.

When the internal sustainability team at Heritage Environmental Services started defining our sustainability reporting boundaries and assuring materiality and inclusiveness for our business, we were certain that a major pillar of the program was missing.  Sure, the programs through the International Organization for Standardization (ISO)  take a more in-depth look into providing a quality product or service, but the Global Reporting Initiative’s (GRI) product responsibility section just doesn’t cover developing sustainable long-term relationships with the customer base.

In defining our sustainability goals, we determined that highly strategic endeavors such as transparency through sustainability reporting and ethical business practices fall into the “patron” line (along with development of new waste reuse and recycling options for our customers).  Our profit line is more focused on our goals of increasing return on assets and decreasing internal consumption of significant resources (including energy).

As more and more companies move toward completing Scope 3 of their carbon footprint analysis, work is underway to get involved with your supply chain’s sustainability efforts (e.g. Carbon Disclosure Project’s Supply Chain Program).  Aren’t we the supply chain for our patrons?  Don’t we need to be cognizant of meeting their sustainability needs?   How can we sustain our business if we don’t sustain our customer interactions and relationships?  What do you think?

Should we add a fourth P?


About Joanne Jones

Joanne Jones is the Director of Sustainability for Heritage Environmental Services, where she is responsible for the development and growth of the company’s internal sustainability programs. Since taking this new role at Heritage, she has managed the creation and publishing of an Interim Sustainability Report and is working on the company's first Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) report.

View all post by Joanne Jones »

  1. Richard Pastor

    June 6, 2012

    Wouldn’t you consider your customers to be part of the social/community pillar of the triple bottom line? This pillar, I believe, is meant for all those impacted by your facilities and operations, which would naturally include your customers. As part of any supply chain you need to look not only at your suppliers but also at those receiving your products or services. Therefore I think your customers are already included in that third pillar.

    • Joanne Jones

      June 6, 2012

      Thanks for the response and your thoughts. And sure, I agree that the individuals who work for our customers and suppliers are part of our social/community impact. But as you delve into the commerce aspects of interacting with your customers, their supply chain connecting to your supply chain . . . wouldn’t adding focus encourage continuous improvement.

  2. Stephen Evanoff

    June 6, 2012


    Thanks for your well-written blog and for pointing out the importance of customers in developing a sustainability strategy. I think customers are implicit in the triple bottom line social/community pillar, as Dick Pastor points out. But, your point about making customers more explicit in the sustainability strategy may result in a more keen awareness among employees of the link between sustainability and the business fundamental of customer satisfaction/service, and lead to greater support within the company, which is the foundation of a successful sustainability program.

Leave your comment