planet-smart blog

Leadership beyond the triple bottom line

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Vince Siciliano

Note: This post by New Resource President and CEO Vince Siciliano originally appeared in Sustainable Industries as part of the online magazine’s Thought Leaders series. We’re running it here as an illustration of how New Resource is extending sustainability thinking and as an example of the perspective on sustainable management that we share with clients. --Editor

Leadership is the process of influence: whenever we try to influence someone’s thinking, behavior or development we are acting as a leader. In the developing world of triple bottom line (people, planet, profit) thinking we encourage each other to integrate social and environmental values with our economic pursuits. But an important fourth “P”—a clearly defined purpose—is largely ignored.

That is unfortunate, because why we do what we do is critical in defining the “what” and the “how” of our process. As John Wooden, the famous UCLA basketball coach, said to his players, “When you know the ‘why,’ the ‘how’ and ‘what’ become automatic!” What are our motivations and intentions? What are our values and desires? How do we think about our goals and aspirations in comparison with those of others?

Sustainability can no longer be viewed as “meeting our needs without compromising the needs of the future.” Those needs are already compromised. Today’s technologies and resources are not adequate to meet the real needs of much of the world, whether we define “needs” as basic human needs (which are lacking for 2 billion people) or what’s required for the high standard of living that we in the U.S. enjoy.  As this becomes obvious to more and more people, we are beginning to acknowledge the bankruptcy of our 20th-century models for growth and to search for alternatives to our current state of affairs.

This is the challenge of sustainable leadership: a leader today must develop and communicate a vision and take actions that generate new capabilities and resources for tomorrow’s living. In designing new ways of living that make room for all of us on a renewable earth, we must be clear about the difference between “ends goals” and “means goals.” Means goals are ways in which we achieve noble ends goals; these must include profitability, excellence and sustainability. Ends goals embody our best thinking about what we want life on Earth to be like; these include human development, quality of life and the achievement of our values.

Ends goals are what the fourth “P” is all about: the consideration of purpose means we examine and articulate our values and aspirations and integrate them with our economic and social lives. A purpose-driven bottom line brings us face to face with transcendent issues that need to be central in the bustling marketplace.

When we manage not only for people, profit and planet, but also for purpose, we combine our creation of value with our values and thereby root our economy in a substrate of endless creativity and truly renewable energy. We will then enable people to work and live with purposeful energy that is irresistible and unstoppable.  

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