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SUSTAINABILITY AND THE TRIPLE BOTTOM LINE: A PHILOSOPHICAL FRAMEWORK



What is Sustainability?

Sustainability is the capacity to endure. It reflects a state or condition of an entity that enables it to thrive into the future in a socio-economically and environmentally responsible way. Under the auspices of the United Nations, the Brundtland Commission defined sustainability as:

“Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”


This definition was originally cast in the context of global economic development. It has since taken on a variety of meanings and interpretations, many of which currently have a narrower focus on governance, enterprise and institutional matters.

Broadly speaking, the term "sustainability" connotes (and inspires) such goals as minimizing resource depletion, not “mortgaging the future,” social justice, stakeholder diversity and inclusiveness, economic health and stability, environmental stewardship and a variety of others. By definition, sustainability is associated with the long term.

The “Triple Bottom Line”

The Triple Bottom Line or TBL, is an essential architectural component of sustainability planning and assessment. It refers to three critical considerations that must be balanced in any rigorous sustainability analysis or long term plan. These considerations relate to Economic, Environmental and Social (including Governance) issues.

All three legs of a TBL analysis are important, although they tend to be subject to differences in interpretation and perceptions of relevance. How sustainability is viewed depends on the agendas, social perspectives, philosophies, politics and investment objectives of the analyst or the analyst’s sponsor.

The weight given to each component in a sustainability assessment can vary, depending on the particulars of the analysis. Therefore, it is essential that analytical constructs and terms be clearly defined at the beginning of an assessment so that the results can be understood in the correct context. We have attempted to achieve that definitional and analytic clarity throughout this website.
  • Acknowledges sustainability as an over-arching imperative
  • Strongly principles-based philosophy
  • Comprehensive and balanced TBL approach
  • Focus on definition, clarity, transparency, verifiability and practical application of complex analytics