Twenty-five years ago, serial entrepreneur John Elkington coined the phrase “Triple Bottom Line.” His notion that businesses need to manage under the bottom lines of “Profit,” “People” and “Planet” has been a revolutionary driver of change for many companies from start-up to Fortune 500.While Elkington’s three bottom lines are undoubtedly useful guides when working in business, the Christian business person has an opportunity to deliver on a fourth bottom line: “Praise.” In addition to delivering profit and helping people and the planet, followers of God in the business sector are called to bring glory to Him through their work and praise him by excelling in the other three bottom lines.
Unfortunately, in many businesses, greed, competition and self-service dominate. Our economic system encourages business leaders and employees to seek commercial success at the expense of others, looking down on others who do less well. Operating in these mentalities do not bring glory to God, but to oneself. We know that all of our resources come from God, whether we acknowledge it or not. In response, faithful businesspersons praise God by using their resources to benefit others. Hugh Whelchel, Executive Director of the Institute for Faith, wrote that the purpose of work and, by extension, the organizations in which we do that work, is to bring glory to God. We produce economic, social and spiritual returns--all at the same time. In this way, our business practices praise God.
Businessmen and women can praise God through accounting profit, respecting and serving people and respecting the environment by adhering to the following biblical principles:
- Acknowledge that both business and personal resources come from God. Just as stockholders demand a return on investment, so does the Lord;
- Partner our hard work with God’s blessing to achieve commercial success. The Christian praises God by acknowledging that He is the author of business success, providing both the opportunity and the achievement and knowing that we are merely partners in His plan;
- Combine competition and service. Christians praise God when they respect, pray for and honor their competitors, just as Jesus told us to, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44, NIV).
- Fulfill God’s Kingdom on earth. In the parable of the sower, Jesus says, “the kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field…” (Matt: 13:24-29 NIV). In the parable of the mustard seed, Jesus likewise talks of both economic and environmental returns. The parable of the merchant compares God’s Kingdom to exercising great business investment. On and on, Jesus links His Kingdom to our business efforts here on earth.
- Serve. God is praised when we serve others. This mirrors Jesus’ personal purpose: “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Matt. 20:28 NIV). Many in business leadership could learn from Jesus’ example—arranging their leadership approach around serving both customers and employees.
- Provide daily bread. Jesus miraculously provided bread, fish, health and other attributes of a good life. I find no evidence that Jesus helped people obtain things that destroyed life. Some business leaders are like “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10 NIV). They pursue profit and wealth at the cost of others. Jesus, instead, came that people “may have life, and have it to the full.” Conversely, business pursuits that earn profits by demeaning or degrading God’s people are not praise.
While by no means mainstream, quadruple bottom line businesses that follow these six principles are beginning a revolution. Businesses like Eventide, IBEC Ventures and Partners Worldwide think about the role business plays in the world differently. They realize that they have a responsibility beyond profits and dividends to shareholders—they have the opportunity and responsibility to order their businesses to deliver good for people and the planet as well as praise God.
We are now learning that business is a powerful tool Christians can use to serve and provide gifts to the world’s neediest. It is time we learn how to use our business expertise to produce quadruple bottom-line results. Meeting the lines of profit, people, planet and praise require new forms of management, new types of mission, new ways of looking at customers, new kinds of investment and new ways of planning, managing and measuring results.
In all, the quadruple bottom line offers Christians a powerful opportunity to use business as a revolution for bringing glory to God.
Dr. William J. Oliver holds a master’s from MIT and a Doctor of Management from Case Western Reserve University. He is a Professor of Business at Sattler College in Boston.