People, Planet and Profit have about as much in common as a ball and a crocodile
People Planet Profit, or triple bottom line was a catchphrase first coined in the 90´s by guy named John Elkinson. He was a consultant for SustainAbility and has probably done very well in making a profit for himself, because since then this idea has become a gospel in business, government and NGO’s alike. The first is not surprising, but what I will point out is that NGO’s and governments have no business following PPP logic. And that, in fact, it represents a classic example of collective delusion. Which I will try to elaborate in terms a six year old can understand.
So, I like to play a game with my kids, we take two apparently unrelated objects and then name the differences. Like a crocodile and a ball. A crocodile has teeth, a ball does not. A ball can role, a crocodile doesn’t. Crocodiles can lay eggs, a ball cannot. Etc.
So let’s play that game with PPP.
Profit is something that belongs to a person, the planet does not.
The planet will exist beyond us, profit will not.
People have a soul, profit does not.
Both people and profit can reproduce themselves, the planet does not.
People will die without a planet, but not without profit.
People have equal rights to the planet, but profit is not distributed equally.
Profit can deflate, the planet cannot.
People and profit are very temporary, the planet is not.
The planet can create profit, but profit cannot create a planet.
People create profit, but profit cannot create people.
So in fact, people, planet and profit, seem to have about as much in common as a ball and a crocodile.
However, other than in the case of a crocodile and a ball, there is an undeniable hierarchy of the three. Let’s start with the bottom line: People create profit, but profit cannot create people. This obviously places profit beneath people just as a religious person would place a person beneath a god. One has created the other, so is obviously superior. In fact if you look at the above list, there is actually very little profit can actively do at all, except deflate. So:
People > create >Profit
What about the planet? It will exist beyond us and without it we will die. I don’t think there is any denying that planet comes above people. Since without a planet, there’s no people. So whether we like it or not:
Planet >People >Profit
I think it makes perfect sense to any six year old. So what on earth could have come in to us to take John’s word for it and think they were in any way equal?!?
In psychological terms this is called cognitive dissonance. I remembers learning about this term in Psychology and I thought it was a quite funny to realize that if the world doesn’t match our expectation, rather than adjusting our expectations we adjust the way we see the world. Haha.
However, cognitive dissonance is one of the strongest defenders of the status quo, it helps us resist change. What’s more; a collective sense of cognitive dissonance can reap havoc on society.
Take slavery; lets say we are abusing people and making them work for no pay. If somebody would do that to us, we’d be very mad and very unhappy (empathy). Thus, rather than setting slaves free and building our economy on a healthier foundation, our ancestors concluded that slaves are in fact not people, so nothing like us. They have no feelings, no rights and if they’re unhappy just give em a good beating. This is cognitive dissonance. And we are making the same mistake. The way to end slavery was not in fact to say, hey let’s give these people a token salary and continue to beat them up, which is actually what happened at first. So I guess were at that stage right now.
We are giving our planet a token salary while we continue our abuse.
The only way to unleash any sort of common sense is if we burst our bubble and realise there is no triple bottom line. There is only one: if we continue on this course we will stop to exist, while the planet will recover without us. She doesn’t really need profit, nor people.
So now that we put profit in its place should we stop thinking in business models? Hell no. If anything we need to get smarter about putting the profit back into the planet.
If there is anything we can learn from profit, it is efficiency and how to make more profit with profit. We need to use the logic of profit in the advantage of people and planet. This goes beyond having a dozen start-ups participate in yet another corporate sponsored pitching event, I mean we need to apply financial principles in order to move from smart economics to ‘smart ecology’. We need to get greedy about ecology and restore ecosystems in a cascading way. Keep an eye out on my next article to find out more.