Macquarie University
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Is the triple bottom line reporting framework flawed or can it be developed to a higher state?

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posted on 2022-03-28, 21:36 authored by Kaushik Sridhar
Triple Bottom Line (TBL) reporting has been embedded in corporate practices for the last two decades, without undergoing a great deal of scrutiny in both practical and academic research. This thesis aims to investigate the TBL framework from the perspectives of practitioners who have adopted TBL in the past. The purpose behind this research is to focus on the processes, principles and outcomes of TBL reporting at a corporate level and determine the fundamental limitations within this non-financial reporting framework. The introduction chapter provides a preview of the structural foundation of the thesis, and the research question that will be answered throughout the literature. The thesis comprises of five separate but integrated papers which have been either published in journals, or accepted for publication in journals. Each publication builds on the principles and findings set forth in the previous paper/s and analyzes the limitations within TBL framework based on different academic frameworks. The analysis is primarily based on qualitative data developed through textual analysis of TBL reports; and interviews conducted with the heads of sustainability of forty global corporations considered to have followed TBL reporting as well as being included by major sustainability indexes. The data set includes semi-structured interviews with the executives who are in charge of the sustainability divisions at each of the forty corporations over a one-year period. The methodology chapter provides an overview on different academic theories and theoretical concepts investigated in the thesis. The data analysis draws on stakeholder theory, institutional theory, reputation and legitimacy theory, through which the interviews-data is analyzed; this helped to assess the overall impacts that TBL had in terms of the corporations' non-financial reporting procedures and systems based on their assumptions of what TBL promised to deliver and what it actually delivered, or rather did not. -- The results from the interviews signified potential for the corporations to reflect on the current state of affairs with a TBL paradigm, and through further innovation and engagement, create a mind shift towards a more robust and integrated reporting framework that corrects problems faced through a TBL style of reporting. By embedding TBL principles, objectives and indicators into their internal reporting mechanisms, the forty interviewees, or internal stakeholders, were unable to see the relevance or integration in how TBL reporting processes could feed back into future corporate decisions and strategies related to sustainability as TBL provided minimal opportunities for such reflection. This failure to integrate the past and the present systems with future strategic matters severely undermines the power and potential of TBL reporting to evolve as an integrated and cyclical system that can create change.


Table of Contents

1. Introduction -- 2. A multi-dimensional criticism of the triple bottom line reporting approach (Literature review) -- 3. The three fundamental criticisms of the triple bottom line approach: an empirical study to link sustainability reports in companies based in the Asia Pacific region and TBL shortcomings -- 4. Methodology -- 5. Critical reflections of the triple bottom line as a schema for reporting: practitioners' view -- 6. The relationship between the adoption of triple bottom line and enhanced corporate reputation and legitimacy -- 7. Is the triple bottom line a restrictive framework for non-financial reporting? -- 8. Conclusion -- References -- Appendices.


Bibliography: pages 193-216 Thesis by publication.

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Thesis (PhD), Macquarie University, Macquarie Graduate School of Management

Department, Centre or School

Macquarie Graduate School of Management

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Grant Jones


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Kaushik Sridhar 2012.




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mq:28156 2003752