The Triple Bottom Line
I’m a big fan of the television show “Mad Men,” so I’m excited that after what feels like years since its last episode, the new season has finally begun. It’s not just the story lines and characters that are so compelling to me; it’s the sneak peek into what the milieu of business was like around the time I entered it.
And it’s not just any business, but one I’m fascinated with: the world of advertising. For me, advertising holds the same fascination as architecture and design, specifically how human behavior can be impacted—in Don Draper’s “Mad Men” world, by advertising; and in our world, by the physical environment.
A lot has changed since the days of the two-martini lunches of the 1960s. Thinking about the pace of the world back then, it is difficult not to feel envious. It’s a rare day when many of us take time for lunch, let alone have the opportunity to sit with colleagues and muse creative for hours on end.
On the other hand, there weren’t many female presidents and CEOs back then, so overall, we’ve made progress.
In Don Draper’s world, the goal of advertising was to increase market share and improve corporate profitability. Although those are still goals today, the one significant difference between business in the 1960s and business today is that, for many, the bottom line is about more than profitability. It’s also about the impact that a business or corporation has on communities and individuals.
Enter the triple bottom line: profit, people, and planet.
This triple bottom line addresses an expanded spectrum of corporate values and criteria to measure what success looks like. Profitability doesn’t take a back seat to the ecological health of the planet or to the social welfare of the people. It doesn’t overshadow it, either. The idea being that a company’s responsibility lies with its “stakeholders” and not its “shareholders,” the former referring to anyone who is influenced either directly or indirectly by the actions of the company.
In the nonprofit world, we have always had this focus, as the goal is not to maximize profitability to shareholders but to hold true to a mission and set of values and goals to support that mission. But corporate America over the last few decades has been chasing the dollar, often at any cost. Though this focus has produced some positive economic impacts, it is not a solely sustainable practice over the long term.
The Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) launched an initiative called the IHI Triple Aim in the fall of 2007. This worldwide initiative aligns the concepts behind the triple bottom line closer with the healthcare industry.
It has grown from an original 15 organizations to more than 50 organizations from the United States, Canada, England, Scotland, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore. IHI believes that new designs for healthcare can and must be developed to simultaneously accomplish the Triple Aim critical objectives:
- Improve the health of the population;
- Enhance the patient experience of care (including quality, access, and reliability); and
- Reduce, or at least control, the per capita cost of care.
Clearly each of these objectives ties directly into the design of the physical environment and the role that healthcare buildings play in a community. So what potential new business opportunities will this present for the design and architecture community as we design our healthcare facilities for the next 50 years? What new directions in partnerships might this open up for the healthcare community when looking to design new or remodel existing spaces?
When the conversation is about how the physical environment can directly relate to all three of the IHI’s objectives above, then a very different conversation can be had than discussing how many patient rooms are needed, the optimal square footage of the patient room, or whether to include distributed or centralized nurses’ stations.
The Triple Aim objectives have become especially relevant worldwide as the boundaries that define our scope of influence have blurred and broadened over the years. More healthcare systems are reaching across bodies of water to open partnerships that might be halfway across the world.
Many product manufactures have, through consolidation, become larger and better able to supply their products as easily in Dubai as Denver. And architectural and design firms are designing as many significant projects abroad as they are here in the United States.
The Center for Health Design works on a daily basis to research how to continue to move the industry forward— providing the best tools and resources to support the health and growth of the industry. Over the last few years, we have built a significant online presence with research, online learning opportunities, and useful tools that are intuitive to use and easy to find.
Feel free to visit our website, www.healthdesign.org, as more tools are rolled out over the course of the next year.
We would also enjoy hearing from you. Let us know how to best meet your needs by providing us with feedback on what works for you, what doesn’t, what’s missing, and, most importantly, what would be valuable to you. Our focus has always been on our stakeholders, so take a moment and let us know how we’re doing.
Feel free to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any ideas you want to share or even just to tell me we’re hitting the mark. It’s always nice to hear from you.
Debra J. Levin is President and CEO of The Center for Health Design in Concord, California. Follow her on Twitter at @CHD_DebraLevin.