Back in 2005–not long after Hurricane Katrina had devastated New Orleans–Walmart's then-CEO Lee Scott gave a speech titled "21st Century Leadership." Addressing his personal and professional reaction to the disaster, Scott focused on the increasing importance of sustainability, and laid out three goals for the company: to be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy, to create zero waste and to sell products that sustain people and the environment.
"Hurricane Katrina really started it all for us," Scott explains on The Green Room site (www.walmartgreenroom.com)–a platform for an ongoing conversation with NGOs, suppliers and others who want to share ideas and partner with Walmart to help people live better around the world. "Our company's emergency response showed us the potential we have to make a difference on the social and environmental issues that matter most to our customers, associates and communities."
Walmart underscored its commitment to those issues in its sixth annual Global Responsibility Report, released in April 2013. Titled "The Responsibility to Lead," it highlighted the company's accomplishments and progress in the areas of social, company and environmental responsibility, as well as recent achievements to reduce its environmental impact.
"We believe our customers should not have to choose between affordability and sustainability," Andrea Thomas, Walmart's senior vice president for sustainability, said in a statement about the report.
Walmart's move to measure more than monetary success illustrates the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) approach to accounting: a method of evaluating corporate performance by measuring environmental sustainability and social responsibility in addition to profits.
"The [term] was first coined by John Elkington in 1994 to capture the full cost of doing business," says Marc J. Lane, founder of Marc J. Lane Wealth Group in Chicago, a nationally recognized business and tax attorney, and an expert on entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial finance.
The TBL approach, he explains, measures how a company affects people, planet, and profit–commonly referred to as the Three P's.
"Whole Foods Market Inc.'s mission 'to promote the vitality and well-being of all individuals by supplying the highest quality, most wholesome food available' exemplifies their initiative of a triple bottom line approach," Lane says. "[The company's] motto–'Whole Foods, Whole People, Whole Planet'–also reinforces this notion. Whole Foods, in an attempt to create a sustainable food chain, focuses on four factors: sustainable agriculture, wise environmental practices, community citizenship and integrity in all business relationships."