This policy research working paper, from The World Bank, is authored by Michael Klein and Sumeet Kaur. It provides a comprehensive current, working look at how businesses strive to reflect their efforts in the ‘triple bottom line‘ analysis.
Klein and Kaur argue that firms go through three stages on their journey to achieve social and environmental outcomes in their business activities. They call it a ‘staircase of results measurement‘.
A recognition of organisational readiness. That the embracing of social and environmental outcome is extant across the activity base, and that some process for measurement can be put in place.
The next step is the creation of a result. The recognition that something has been done, or achieved.
The third level for Klein and Kaur is the assessment of impact for the organisation.
The paper does look at the various ways in which impact assessment can be measured, but that this ‘patchwork’ of assessment frameworks can only really provide a range of ‘product characteristics’ for a companies output.
The authors argue that accounting for profit remains the only viable way of assessing costs and income as a framework for commercial performance. Klein and Kaur also argue that the current measurement of social and environmental impact indicators are ‘unrealistic’, and that companies should ‘re-focus’ on profit as the true impact measurer.
We would argue that this is a depressing scenario, one which only emphasises traditionalist thinking, taking a position on mainstream capital endeavour – perhaps only to be expected from The World Bank?
True, there is perhaps no fully integrated, aggregate data driven model to assess the triple bottom line, yet The Klein and Kaur position negates the real passion that individuals and communities have in support of their social and environmentally concerned businesses.
The social business, we would argue, fully recognises the need for surplus generation, in order to both survive as a legal entity, but also to resource and drive its social and environmental commitments, wherever they are on their individual journey.
The two aims are not inimical, they just haven’t been written up yet by the academic community! Read the paper and see what you think.
A note about World Bank publications:
Mainstream economic documents from The World Bank are generally only available by subscription through learning institutions. Working papers, released for public notice, can be accessed from the World Bank eLibrary pages by individual on-line subscription.
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