T02-Fourth Bottom Line

Transformative Spirituality as the Fourth Bottom Line

  • People/Society – Appropriately Protect Others
  • Planet/Ecology – Lift Up the Earth and Tread on it Lightly
  • Profit/Economy – Conscience, Accountability, and Responsibility

Where Did the Fourth Bottom Line Come From?

Online Materials on Spirituality as the Fourth Bottom Line

Tutorial #02 – The Fourth Bottom Line

Transformative Spirituality as the Fourth Bottom Line

There are several key questions I’ve wondered about this new bottom line:

  • Where did it come from?
  • How do we discern its presence?
  • Why does it seem to be emerging now?

I’ll deal with some of my thoughts on those subjects shortly – in overview mode, not super-dooper detail. But first, here’s what I consider to be the biggest question:

If we insert paradox/spirituality into the pre-existing system of a Triple Bottom Line, what relationship should it have to the other three; is it equally important as the other three, not as important (and so, subordinate), or more important?

I have a few initial thoughts for now, and will look at specifics in the next section post, RD3-3 – How Can These Bottom Line Values Be (Re)Configured?

In my reflections on real-world situations of multiple bottom lines, just because an individual or an organization espouses a combination of two, three, or four bottom lines, that doesn’t mean these function in any way that is integrated, balanced, and harmonious. That post suggests various ways that bottom lines can be made into a set or a system, and different modes of functional and dysfunctional compositing them that show up in the world of theory and the real world. For now, all I want to suggest is this:

The conventional three bottom lines are said to be “transparent” – they should be seen to and seen through. The new bottom line of spirituality is about “transcendent” – it takes us beyond the conventional, and motivates us to move outside ourselves in a bigger way. And thus, I believe, the bottom line of paradox/spirituality should be used to integrate or hold all the other three.

I came to this insight in a conversation with TallSkinnyKiwi (Andrew Jones) after The Feast conference in October 2009. Andrew had already blogged a year earlier about spirituality as a fourth bottom line in On Going Forth (September 05, 2008). Previously, he’d also written The Fourth Sector and Emerging Mission (January 30, 2008) for his blog, and Mission and the Fourth Sector (February 01, 2008) for the UK Church Mission Society. So, he’d already been thinking about these topics.

But for me, it was the beginning of a new exploration that led to this series. Here is an excerpt from a post on the subject, from my SuperHero Sidekick blog on October 13, 2009. This was the first post in a new blog subtitled – wait for it! – Spiritual Entrepreneurship and Adventures in the Quadruple Bottom Line.

What’s that all about? Well, let me tell you. Every time I feel it’s time to start a new blog, there’s some story or another behind it. Here’s the history on this one. […]

[It started] after The Feast’s “Full On Good” 2009 – an intercultural TED-type event focusing on the emerging phenomenon of social entrepreneurship. I’ve been involved in social activism for nearly 40 years, which certainly is longer than the average age of people at this conference. And one surprising observation there made me think I had something to say and that I should start saying it. […]

And, you may ask, “What was the ‘surprising observation’ of which you speak?” Although I rarely heard Full On Good participants talk about a specific philosophy, or religion, or faith, I did hear the language of spirituality in almost every presentation and conversation. How can we even talk about doing “good” to affect our world for “the better,” unless we believe there is also a “bad” or a “toxic” or an “evil” that will otherwise turn our world for the worse unless we push back on it? How can we talk about choosing to pursue transformational enterprises unless we have some kind of underlying destiny or design that urges us in that direction? How can we even talk about a future and a hope and transformation unless we believe in something transcendent?

Part of the triple bottom line is about transparency. This fourth bottom line is about transcendency – ideals, aspirations, legacies for the next generations. So, how can we talk about being holistic, with a triple bottom line of benefiting everyone, the economy, and the environment, yet leave out a fourth bottom line befitting the spiritual?

I’ve worked in multiple sectors and with different combinations of bottom lines for a long time. I’ve also experienced the unfortunate consequences of leaders and institutions that attempt a “quadruple bypass” of the social, economical, ecological, and spiritual. [Doing none of these] creates its own catastrophe! But, I believe, we’re aware of the damage only because we humans universally exhibit a desire for the good, for hope, for personal and social transformation toward an ideal. So, I’d suggest that if we want to amplify the new tradition of the triple bottom line, we have to surround our activities with a fourth boundary line: the spiritual.

So, I believe the three conventional bottom lines should intersect each other’s borders, but all three should also be found inside the larger boundary of the fourth bottom line.

Here’s imagery from artist Scott Maxwell at F0T0LIA.COM that illustrates the combination of connection, reflection, and pro-action in the motivation provided by Paradox/Spirituality, as it drives us to do something constructive about:

People/Society – Appropriately Protect Others

Image to be inserted: SN

Planet/Ecology – Lift Up the Earth and Tread on it Lightly

Image to be inserted: WIOH

Profit/Economy – Conscience, Accountability, and Responsibility

Image to be inserted: ATWGCES

Where Did the Fourth Bottom Line Come From?

It seems like this fourth bottom line of paradox/spirituality is a native part of the holistic paradigm, and we’re seeing it now as a natural part of this core value’s emergence. Where and how, when and why has this been happening? Those are intriguing questions. Here are some of my thoughts.

The world has gotten smaller, especially with the advent of widespread internet usage. No big news there. But think (or, you future readers – imagine!) for a moment back to when the internet wasn’t there …

Before that, worldshrink began in earnest with increased global reportage and 24/7 news coverage – presaged by the (in)famous mid-1980s cyberguy and New Coke spokesman, “Max Headroom,” and his fictional IRL news reporter counterpart, Edison Carter. We started seeing the real-world impact of hard times: AIDS, droughts, famines, wars, tsunamis, earthquakes, climate changes, rain forest destructions.

And as we saw what was happening across our nation and across our world, people were moved to act. Think events like:

Of all these and similar events, “We are the World” probably stands out as a theme song for a shift in consciousness that led to compassion. In some ways, this movement toward a spiritual bottom line found some initial sparks from celebrities, who possess a fifth kind of capital – the “granted capital” of influence, given to them by their fans. Would they use this influence, or take it for granted? Then, as now, many celebrities use their status to “give back to the community” in the form of work for non-profit agencies and other causes that benefit people beyond themselves and their elite spheres of influence.

Also, these symbolic actions mirror the tendency of the idealistic Boomer generation who suggested en masse a lot of sweeping and grandiose social changes … but who themselves (ourselves, actually, since I was born in the middle of the boom) eventually succumbed to consumerism as an overall generation.

However, as the world shrank and we became more informed, it seems we passed the threshold of activity. Large-scale actions like those of the mid-1980s were less far-reaching and far less successful in raising funds. Apparently, compassion fatigue started setting in. People of privilege (in America at least) were overloaded by the devastating details of worldwide catostrophes over which they could do little, even by giving much.

By the mid-1990s, it was common to hear next-generation young adults especially say things like, “I can’t change the world. But maybe I can at least change my corner of it.” Meanwhile, these humble Busters – the first generation in American history to be told outright that they would not do as well financially as their parents (as if “success” is measured by money) – were living out a very different modus operandi. They were acting in accord with a value on others that involved going beyond themselves.

This subtle, emerging zeitgeist – a new Buster and Blaster generation “spirit of the age” – was captured in a key movie of the new millennium: Pay It Forward (2000). The film capsulized the “sustainable pro-action” concept of Paradox/Spirituality and crystallized it with the phrase “pay it forward” because you were not allowed to “pay it back” when someone showed you kindness. Now, nearing a decade after the release of Pay It Forward, we hear that iconic phrase frequently, perhaps more from the under-40 crowd, while we still hear “give back” or “give to the community” from the over-40 crowd.

I see spirituality and the underlying paradoxical, holistic paradigm from which it flows, are now core values for those who want to focus on the transformation of their civilization. We need to listen to media and culture for how these concepts are progressing. I suspect we’ll find them used more frequently, and hear the language of spirituality and hope and imagination used more often in relation to enterprises using a Triple Bottom Line. Also, don’t be surprised as things move forward, to detect a more hopeful sense of impact by people leverage their assets and relationship by compounding or compositing their own actions with the actions of others – such as getting a club together to collect enough for Kiva micro-loans. Or Charity.water digging wells. Or …

Meanwhile, the details of this fourth bottom line of spirituality are still sort of ishy-squishy. That is something that should be expected of any new phenomenon as it moves from a subcultural home into the mainstream culture. But at the least, we do know that it seems this core value form of Paradox/Spirituality is:

  • Pro-People/Society. It may be anti-Darwinian, because – though it is an evolutionary move forward – it seems to assume we should survive together, and shield those who are not otherwise the fittest to survive.
  • Pro-Planet/Ecology. It is not anti-material, because it involves caring for the earth.
  • Pro-Profit/Economy. It is not anti-money, because it advocates using wealth to promote the well-being of others.

And if we use the Quadruple Bottom Line framework, we might find ourselves surprised to see more biblical concepts and commands that relate. As a do-it-yourself project, find positive commands (do this), negative commands (don’t do that), and declarations of God’s decrees regarding the elements in the Triple Bottom Line. Then reflect on what you find, see how the insights connect with yourself and those you are in relationship with, and discern and decide what pro-active steps you (singular) and you (plural) will take. Here are some starters:

Pro-People/Society. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18, NIV). “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10, NIV).

Pro-Planet/Ecology. “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign. The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great – and for destroying those who destroy the earth” (Revelation 11:17-18, NIV, emphasis added).

Pro-Profit/Economy. Read the entire passage of Revelation chapter 18, which declares the eventual demise of the commercial enterprise known as “Babylon the Great.”

Typically, social transformation enterprises now use only a “triple bottom line” of society, economy, and ecology. However, there are signs that this is expanding to include personal spirituality and transcendence as the fourth bottom line. The concept of “spiritual intelligence” and transcendence as a fourth bottom line has developed significantly in the past decade. This page gives a number of links to online resources and tutorials about spirituality in the package of social benefit systems. For related information, see the material on this website at Quadruple Bottom Line.

Online Materials on Spirituality as the Fourth Bottom Line

Quadruple Bottom Line Reporting by Shane Thornton (posted July 28, 2009, on ehow.com) provides an excellent overview of the subject. He includes sections on the significance of quadruple bottom line and the history of triple bottom line reporting and its expansion to quadruple. He also addresses its function (includes stakeholders, not just shareholders), its benefits, and misconceptions about “spirituality” in the workplace. He includes several other reference links worth investigating:

  • Enter the Triple Bottom Line is a PDF chapter by John Elkington, who coined the term triple bottom line in 1994.
  • Spirituality as the Fourth Bottom Line by Professor Sohail Inayatullah (2005). Professor Inayatullah, well-known in the world futurists community, notes that because of value shifts by stakeholders and CEOs, “The triple bottom line movement has taken off. Indeed, 45% of the world’s top companies publish triple bottom line reports.” In this substantive article, he also explores root cultural shifts that led to a change in paradigms, four interrelated factors in being “spiritual,” and possible ways to measure level of “spirituality.”

The Fourth Bottom Line by Jem Bendell (posted 2002) is a brief article that addresses the integration of spiritual values and perspectives into a business environment. The author expects that non-Western global regions have much to contribute in this regard, and also suggests that the potential roadblocks to an integrated quadruple bottom line need to be addressed:

“Most spiritual traditions suggest that spirituality cannot be measured, cannot be divided, and should never be used for self-centred ends, such as the generation of profit. That would be a perversion of spirituality. Is it not time to recognise those ways of knowing and feeling that cannot not be reduced to a mathematical output and to respect their non-quantifiable contribution to the health of humanity?”

Sacred Commerce is a book and online wiki  with a free chapter at “The 4th Bottom Line,” or go here for a PDF version of this chapter (posted March 05, 2008). The chapter gives a brief critique of the old/modernist paradigm of business as the only bottom line. It also emphasizes such concepts as identity, destiny, purpose, intention, choice, sustainability, and raising consciousness in being spiritual, and how these directly relate to personal and social benefits.

The Fourth Bottom Line in Business is an article by marketing and communications strategist Clive Simpkins, posted in New Renaissance magazine, Volume 12, No 2 (Winter, 2003-4). Simpkins says that “Spiritual Intelligence or Spiritual Awareness is an idea whose time has come,” and he explores aspects of these concepts and how they fit in the world of business. He also shares some provocative phrases and quotations that capture key reasons why moral/ethical/spiritual considerations have marched front-and-center in light of the global scope of business scandals. For instance, here are the first two paragraphs, and the next to last:

Outgoing American Ambassador to South Africa, James Joseph, said: “People who strive to live morally are now insisting that their institutions and leaders do the same.” International Corporate Governance guru, Bob Garratt, is quoted as saying, “In an increasingly litigious environment internationally, your honesty rating will follow you like a personal credit rating.” It’s a pity that the fear of litigation has to be a driver for honest behaviour. But following the scandals surrounding Enron, Worldcom, and locally, Saambou, Regal Treasury Bank, Unifer and now PSG, one is inclined to ask, ‘Who’s next?’ People are suffering from what I call ‘fraud fatigue.’ We’re all heartily sick of seeing elderly people’s life savings evaporate and droves of people refreshing CV’s because some greedy sods have ‘done it again.’

Enter the alien concept of moral and ethical living and behaviour in the corporate world. What I would call ‘Spirituality in Business.’ Zilch to do with religiosity, but everything to do with respecting other people and their interests. […]

Out of all of this, what would be the organizational ‘symptomology’ of Spiritual Intelligence? Here it is: People with a sense of relevance and purpose in life. A better work ethic. Greater respect for diversity. Lower stress levels. Less ego, conflict and gossip. Less inappropriate (destructive) competitiveness. Better mentoring, nurturing and supportiveness. Lower levels of fraud and theft. A better social investment ethic. Better respect for and conservation of, resources. Lower levels of sexual or other impropriety. As I joke, the only downside to all of this is the risk of premature sainthood!

Happiness-Spirituality as The Fourth Bottom Line” by Asim Malik (posted at Triple Bottom Line on July 18, 2008). Among other topics, Malik picks up the four features of spirituality mentioned by Professor Inayatullah and the issue of “spiritual indicators” for measuring the fourth bottom line. Malik’s article is especially helpful for drawing upon global sources dealing with happiness and spirituality. For instance, Malik mentions the “gross happiness index” used in Bhutan and “life satisfaction seminars” in the UK.

Finally, if spirituality as a fourth bottom line is a relatively topic new for you, you’ll find a helpful list of reource articles online at Service-Growth on the “Economics of Values-Conscious Business.” As a set, it addresses a wide range of relevant topics that include:

  • Cultural capital
  • Return on investment in multiple-bottom line reporting
  • Spiritual capital, spiritual intelligence
  • Spiritual economics
  • Spirituality in business
  • Sustainability principles and indicators for reporting
  • Triple and quadruple bottom line reporting
  • Values-conscious business

© 2010 Brad Sargent. All rights reserved.