Abstract: Traditional concepts in economic theory state that the sole purpose of a company is to make as much money for its owners (or shareholders). This paper explores discussions and theories regarding alternatives to this model, and in doing so examines whether a business can simultaneously contribute to social and/or environmental issues in a meaningful way or benefit a wider group of interested parties beyond the traditional definition of owners.
The paper discusses traditional neo-liberal economic views of the company as well as various topics relating to Corporate Social Responsibility, sustainability, development and stakeholder theory. It then develops a condensed theory that the authors abstract from the literature on this subject, drawing on the similarities in theories developed by a range of theorists and academics.
Once the theoretical framework is presented, the results of a number of interviews, questionnaires and surveys are analysed in order to discuss the applicability of theories regarding a Triple Bottom Line to real business cases. Yin’s (2009) Case Study Method is used to collect and analyse evidence drawn from the corporate sector, academia and social entrepreneurs.
The Swedish cases; Ericsson, Tetra Pak, Max Hamburgers and Mitt Liv are analysed. They are three very different companies but to a certain extent alike when looking from a “Triple Bottom Line” view. Tetra Pak and Max are both private owned enterprise that do not have to struggle with myopic quarterly earnings to please the stock market and can therefore work with a longer time horizon in mind. Mitt Liv, which is a social enterprise and not a profit maximizing enterprise, on the other hand, has social issues as their core value proposition.
The authors conclude that despite considerable scepticism from academics, business people and development practitioners, particularly in Sweden perhaps due to relying too much on “the Nordic model”, more and more organisations, though, (small and large) are working in ways which generate profit while benefiting the environment as well as societies or communities where the business activity is conducted.
Written by Marie Thulesius
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