When it comes our social, environment and economic challenges, human beings urgently need to accelerate the pace of our global education, growth, and action, especially in the area of business and its inevitable impact. 3BL is here to make sure we act in time.
Could you please tell our readers about 3BL and what you do?
3BL Associates is a people + planet strategy consultancy and Think-Do-Tank that was established to reimagine a more sustainable and regenerative Middle East. It was co-founded by siblings Leena and Tariq Al Olaimy in partnership with the Gulf Marcom Group and Al Muqla Investments.
We use sustainable development challenges—ranging from peace and climate change to unemployment, health, and education—as opportunities to create economic, social, and environmental wealth for countries, companies, communities, and the Earth.
What does 3BL stand for, and what is it all about?
3BL stands for “triple bottom line,” which is also known as “people, planet, profit.” It means measuring performance while taking into consideration not just the traditional bottom line, but also the impact on society and the environment.
Why do you think sustainable initiatives/businesses are the way of the future?
2015 was a landmark year for sustainable development. With the introduction of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, a U.N. climate change treaty, and the shift in oil markets, last year signaled that the era of fossil fuels and unsustainable practices is truly ending.
Sustainability is the only way a business can be successful and sustainable over the long term. When sustainability is viewed as a non-value-adding activity, it will naturally be a low priority for companies still trying to navigate a challenging economy. When local and regional companies understand the link between their potential to flourish and their communities and the planet, it will unleash a wave of innovation across every major industry.
AN ANALYSIS OF S&P 500 COMPANIES FINDS THAT CORPORATIONS WITH SUSTAINABILITY STRATEGIES OUTPERFORM OTHERS ON THE INDEX, AND CORPORATIONS THAT ARE ACTIVELY MANAGING AND PLANNING FOR CLIMATE CHANGE SECURE AN 18% HIGHER RETURN ON INVESTMENT THAN COMPANIES THAT AREN’T.
Is awarding companies or businesses for sustainability a good idea? Will it encourage others?
An important realization for companies is that they will first be rewarded by their own sustainable business practices through increased innovation, profits, and a more prosperous community.
An analysis of S&P 500 companies finds that corporations with sustainability strategies outperform others on the index, and corporations that are actively managing and planning for climate change secure an 18% higher return on investment than companies that aren’t.
We believe that you get what you incentivize, and if we incentivize the right type of competition, it can lead to increased innovation.
Should sustainability be limited to CSR initiatives, or should they be adopted as company-wide initiatives, practiced by everyone?
An unsustainable business puts self-imposed limits on its success. The very purpose of companies should be to enrich human lives, economies, and communities in a way that does not cause ecological offense or disadvantage. If your organization is not doing so, then you should first question why you are in business, and also realize that eventually, others who take such an approach will disrupt your industry.
How is 3BL helping to change mindsets in the future?
It is just as important to change “heart-sets” as it is mind-sets. As a values-driven organization, we believe that empathy can lead to more innovative ways of serving communities, and that compassion can lead to more collaborative practices.
On a regional level, our bold vision is to reimagine the Middle East where there is an un-foreign policy of collaboration and compassion, a currency of kindness, and an evolution of consciousness; where walls are broken down and bridges built in favour of inclusion and cooperation.
Can you tell us more about your Think-Do-Tank initiative?
Our consultancy work funds 3BL’s Think-Do-Tank, which publishes research like the first Bahrain Responsible Business Report (with Arabic Knowledge@Wharton) in 2012. But aside from research, we use the think-do-tank as a social innovation lab to incubate our own ventures. For example ‘www.Diabetes.bh’ is an award-winning offline and online network and portal for education on the prevention and management of diabetes and its related issues.
Nature is the ultimate sustainability benchmark, and throughout all our Think-Do-Tank initiatives, we aspire to match innovation in the human world to the level of the natural world. This ethos is rooted in the discipline of Biomimicry—a practice that studies nature’s best ideas, technologies, and models, then emulates them in order to solve some of the greatest human challenges.
IT IS A CHALLENGE TO SHIFT THE UNDERSTANDING THAT SUSTAINABILITY ISN’T A NICHE OR SPECIFIC INDUSTRY—RATHER, IT IS REDEFINING EVERY INDUSTRY WE KNOW, AND AFFECTS ALMOST EVERY ASPECT OF HUMAN LIFE.
What does 3BL do to help create and develop economic, social, and environmental opportunities for companies, people, and perhaps governments?
Often, there is a lack of clarity in addressing social and development issues across organizations, and development issues are tackled in silo. Cross-cutting and interconnected issues such as climate change, food, water, energy security, health, and education are not being addressed systematically. These issues are likely to be exacerbated by the constant state of flux characterizing the region and the world.
Without shifting the way in which we approach social problems, individual interventions on a CSR or government level will not achieve inclusive sustainable development. 3BL breaks down these silos by designing multi-stakeholder partnerships that facilitate a more efficient use of resources through collaboration and collective impact.
What don’t people understand about sustainable practices? What are some misconceptions?
From a big-picture perspective, sustainability doesn’t mean that we should sacrifice or have less. It is about reorganizing and redesigning our societies, governments, and built environment so that we can operate in a mode of innovative abundance rather than scarcity.
What challenges are you currently facing?
Our biggest challenge in this current climate is to shift thinking away from the prevalent austerity and incremental innovation mindset to one in which governments, people, and organizations are prepared to fundamentally reimagine our societies and drive exponential and sustainable innovations across all fields.
3BL operates in a very niche and specific industry. Does that make it more challenging?
The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals encompass all key aspects of our societies, economies, and ecosystems. It is a challenge to shift the understanding that sustainability isn’t a niche or specific industry—rather, it is redefining every industry we know, and affects almost every aspect of human life.
What can you tell entrepreneurs who might be thinking of pursuing the path you’re on?
Do it! Just start, and let the work teach you. There is no greater reward than to be in service to the world. And let us know if you need our support or want to collaborate. You can read more about our advisory board and brilliant associates at our website, www.3blassociates.com.