In today's world, companies are redefining what a sustainable and profitable business looks like. Enter: the triple bottom line. The triple bottom line is “a business concept that posits firms should commit to measuring their social and environmental impact—in addition to their financial performance—rather than solely focusing on generating profit” (HBS Online). Consumers are increasingly demanding that brands take a stand on societal and political issues that they care about. In fact, some customers are willing to pay a higher price when they know part of the profits will support causes that they believe in. (Nielsen Global Survey on Corporate Social Responsibility). As a result, companies that take a social stance are more likely to build loyal customers and attract top talent.
While some may view the adoption of a triple bottom line approach as impractical in a world where profit often takes precedence over purpose, many companies have demonstrated that it is possible to achieve financial success while prioritizing social and environmental impact. Rather than being mutually exclusive, sustainable business practices can actually be beneficial to a company's financial performance. Below are five examples of brands that have taken a bold stance on social issues, showing that it is possible for companies to be profitable and socially responsible at the same time.
1. CVS Health
CVS Health stopped selling tobacco products at its 7,600 stores in 2014, making it the first national pharmacy chain to do so. Despite the estimated $2 billion a year from tobacco shoppers, CVS CEO Larry Merlo believed that selling cigarettes conflicted with the company's mission of improving people's health. This decision has not only helped to lower the national smoking rate but also helped CVS establish itself as a leader in the healthcare industry. Since then, CVS's annual revenues have increased, and the company has taken further steps to create a tobacco-free generation, including a $50 million campaign to combat teen vaping announced in June 2019.
Nike's ad campaign celebrating Colin Kaepernick's right to protest racial injustice through kneeling during the National Anthem helped improve the company's brand image and resulted in higher North American sales growth. Despite predictions that the campaign would harm Nike, CEO Phil Knight maintains that taking a stance on an issue is necessary, even if it means offending some people. Knight believes that a company cannot go down the middle of the road and must take a stand on something, which is ultimately why the Kaepernick ad campaign worked.
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Patagonia's "Don't Buy This Jacket" campaign in 2011, during the recession, warned of the environmental costs of its best-selling fleece jacket. The ad was meant to criticize Black Friday's culture of overconsumption, yet it led to revenue growth of 30% in 2012 and another 5% in 2013. Patagonia's founder, Yvon Chouinard, had committed to ongoing environmental impact assessments in his 1995 manifesto. Patagonia continues to expand its eco-friendly initiatives such as repairing and reusing clothes, selling used gear online, and rental programs.
4. Ben & Jerry’s
Ben & Jerry's has long been known for its activism and taking bold stances on social issues. The company has taken on a range of causes, from marriage equality and climate change to criminal justice reform and racial justice. In 2019, the company launched its "Justice ReMix'd" flavor, which supports criminal justice reform and includes ingredients like cinnamon and chocolate chunks mixed with fudge and swirls of salty caramel. The ice cream maker has also been vocal about supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and advocating for police reform. Through its activism, Ben & Jerry's has shown that businesses can and should take a stand on social issues, and that doing so can strengthen both their brand and their impact on the world.
5. L.L. Bean
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, L.L.Bean went "off the grid" for the second consecutive year in 2023, temporarily pausing all social media channels to prioritize time spent outside. L.L.Bean is encouraging its followers to follow their lead and join them in spending more time outdoors, promoting outdoor mental wellness research and programming. In today's digital age, companies depend heavily on their online presence and consistent social media posting to share their brand imaging, products, and stories. Therefore, it is commendable that L.L.Bean is prioritizing mental health and well-being over their need to make profits to survive. This partnership is a testament to L.L.Bean's commitment to supporting its customers in their outdoor journeys and creating greater accessibility to outdoor activities.
In conclusion, the triple bottom line approach is becoming increasingly important in today's society, as consumers demand that brands take a stand on social and environmental issues. The examples of CVS Health, Nike, Patagonia, Ben & Jerry's, and L.L.Bean have demonstrated that taking a social stance can not only lead to loyal customers but can also be beneficial to a company's financial performance. “Now, perhaps more than ever before, businesses must step up to create socially and environmentally responsible investments, reduce their carbon footprints, improve corporate policies regarding worker safety and income equality, stand up against discrimination, and increase volunteer opportunities and charitable contributions. Corporate social responsibility is good for the environment, for social justice and equity, for employees and shareholders, and for the brand and profitability. It is a win-win across the board.” (MIT Management Sloan School) These companies have shown that it is possible to achieve financial success while prioritizing social and environmental impact, and that sustainable business practices can be mutually beneficial. As more companies adopt this approach, we can hope to see a positive impact on society and the environment.