Amazon and the Quintuple Bottom Line

The Triple Bottom Line encourages to the cost of doing business. The Quintuple Bottom Line adds Ethics and Equity to Profit, People, Planet. In theory, this is an improvement on the triple bottom line. In reality it depends on how people interpret and apply it. Even if Amazon ticks all these bottom lines, is it a company that supports eco-social sustainability?

Traditionally, capitalism focused on maximizing profit by any means. Reducing costs without accounting for the impact on society and on the environment is a fairly recent demand. 

I originally thought that the Quintuple Bottom Line must have arisen in socialist Europe. I was wrong. It is stakeholder capitalism, born in the USA. I imagine that if applied as designed, stakeholder capitalism will create islands of inclusive prosperity, with employees becoming co-capitalists.

As a capitalist model it might be an improvement on raw, animalistic capitalism. However, is it a truly sustainable improvement? What is driving this type of initiative appears to be creating loopholes that protect company profits. Certainly companies are gearing up to diminish costs associated with environmental and social taxes of one kind or another.

While all this might benefit corporate employees and their immediate environment, it could also increase the numbers of the homeless and unprotected unemployed. However, this potential disempowerment of these modern outcasts is not the responsibility of business, large or small. It is the responsibility of governments. And of oversight bodies.

And ultimately, it is the responsibility of ordinary citizens to ensure that everyone, including the marginalized poor, is treated as a stakeholder in all spheres of political and economic life.

A Quintuple Bottom Line in South Africa?

South Africans excel in many areas of innovation, including policy. Latching on to a Quintuple Bottom Line might be just up our street… Yet is it African? Is it applicable in non-liberal South Africa? Does this even matter? For given the high levels of outsider interference, whether by individuals with sophisticated criminal minds and contacts, or companies with huge financial clout or states with expansionist ambitions, it might just become another distraction.

Policy hoarding won’t improve our collective lot. It might create additional sources of employment for a few locals, particularly in the legal and accounting fields. And perhaps increase the demand for lobbyists. Which is good as far as job creation within this sector goes…

Yet for populations fed up with lockdowns, and especially its aftermath, it is community building that is required. Thankfully this is happening. Sometimes disruptively. Often illegally and violently. And far too often with hidden agendas that serve different factions within the political-business elites. Leaving oversight to civil society organisations – formal and informal.

This is not the ideal, for NGOs and NPOs are not elected bodies. And some have agendas that work within specific ideological frameworks that mightn’t serve indigenous people and cultures.

However, without them we would be far worse off…After all, corruption reality groans for a growth in the direction of responsive and responsible citizenship… And the Quintuple Bottom Line might give local communities more clout where new foreign businesses wish to establish themselves.

The Quadruple Bottom Line

Before I read about the Quintuple Bottom Line, I came across the Quadruple Bottom Line. I was intrigued that there are people who would have companies add PURPOSE as a measurable outcome. I was taken aback for working purposefully is part of my ideological framework. Yet who on earth would dream up adding ‘faith’ to a company’s financial accounting system? It is impossible to measure what is essentially ineffable. I baulked at the idea of measuring the spiritual integrity of a business.

Perhaps it was the use of the word PURPOSE’ and  ‘faith’ rather than ‘ethics’ that lit a red light for me. Whose ‘purpose’ would drive the business ethics measured? What ideological assumptions lie behind such a tactic? What are the long-term implications of this?

The Noahide Code

And then I remembered the Noahide Code. Yet even here this code may not be imposed. Only willingly embraced. In a secular world that protects the rights of all, the Quintuple Bottom Line is more in sync with business speak: Profit, People, Planet, Ethics, Equity. It may be more in sync with the Noahide Code as well – yet it would be best to consult with a qualified rabbi to work that out…

As a marketing ploy, the Quintuple Bottom Line makes capitalism palatable for a more egalitarian consumer. As an accounting system that generates more taxes for governments it might help distribute wealth across the globe. Yet only if the benefits filter into truly sustainable local economies. In practice it might just become a trade off between elites. And a legal shield that makes it ever more difficult for local communities to take on big business, even in defending what in law might already be protected. 

Quintuple Bottom Line Reservations

I thus retain reservations. I recently watered a seed – one that had the greatest potential to meet another’s desire to be wealthier than they currently are. And productive. And purposeful. It was the one the ancestors of the InZuza lineage pointed out as the least harmful, at this time, to the African continent. Yet this is true only if done with humility – with the willingness to adapt or re-invent oneself and one’s business to accommodate ecological and social sustainability. Water quality, accessibility and distribution is a primary example of a limitation on economic activity. From this interaction I learnt that being sustainable requires being aware that today’s sustainable option might become tomorrow’s eco-social challenge

Amazon and the Quintuple Bottom Line

I became aware of this again recently when Jeff Bezos’ vision was explained to me. Would using the Quintuple Bottom Line make a contributor to a better world? Let’s see:

Bezos has enormous profits – certainly enough to invest in space exploration as he seems to want to do. There is no doubt that Amazon ticks the Profit box. His stated goal to provide consumers with access to a diversity of products at the cheapest possible prices he looks as though he ticks the People box -on a global scale.

However, from what I have read, and heard, his employees are relatively poorly paid. Giving them equity would be a simple enough thing for him to do. And it would be in his long-term interests to do so. After all, co-capitalism is one way for such huge companies to appease their workers. And use them as a buffer against the unemployed.

His Planet box needs lots of work before it can be ticked.  However, he might think that he has a solution in his energy use. His requirements are so huge that he wants to turn part of South Africa’s west coast into a solar farm for his company’s personal use… This could be good for South Africa. Or it could be a disaster.

Proposed Amazon Headquarters in Cape Town
Ethics: A way forward for Amazon?  

Sustainability cannot be measured on a scale – the one with two arms weighing one thing in relation to another. Perhaps this is where the problem lies. Perhaps this is how governments and companies weigh costs and benefits. Perhaps Amazon strategists believe that they can continue to disregard the unsustainability of their waste by building a solar farm…  

However, as far as I am concerned, sustainability is the result of incremental gains within the largest possible framework. When seen from a planetary perspective every economic decision is significant. This includes consumer choices. It is the latter that makes Amazon a potentially easy company to influence. Bezos has one primary target: to please his customers. 

I wouldn’t talk to him about God, fond as I am of doing so. I would merely talk to you, regardless of your religious and spiritual beliefs, those of you who order your products from him, to increase your interactions with him. To Jeff Bezos you are gods. He exists to serve you. Use this power that he has given you to create a more inclusive world – assuming this resonates with you. In this way, more Godly he may become. And so may you. Together you may get him to achieve an Ethical triumph…  

Amazon and Eskom

Regardless, given that the man wants a solar farm in South Africa, how can South Africans help him achieve the best eco-social sustainability win we and he are capable of?

I have had a look at Apple’s promotional video of their headquarters in California. It’s a modern beauty that includes forests and orchards which appeal to me. I also like that it produces most of its own energy in the form of an extensive solar farm on the roof. This efficient use of land and space had me enthusiastically ticking boxes. It certainly seems like a more Planet and Equity conscious system than Amazon’s plan. (I don’t know the history of the development though.)

In addition, can Eskom be rescued by Amazon’s self-interested investment in the desert? After all, our post-lockdown, post-corruption economy won’t survive as a modern one without our energy supplies being overhauled by a major investment.

However, it seems that an immensely sophisticated process has been undertaken to persuade the local authorities to allow to damage a natural heritage site. This site is sacred to the  Khoi Khoi and to other local residents. It is also a world heritage site!

It is as though the first nations gatekeepers have no rights. Nor do the Residents’ Associations. Nor the local department of the environment…

A sensitive wetland has been chosen as Amazon’s headquarters. Not the piece of desert sand the solar farm will be built on. Growing an oasis in the desert is not what the virtual Amazon has in mind. Or the local capitalists. Or their lobbyists. Not at all. Prime property that further shrinks the claim of locals to a healthy environment and the Khoi Khoi to their natural heritage. And developments that provide long term employment for locals. And social housing for Cape Town’s residents.

Policies as smokescreens

It seems that despite my best efforts to tick boxes for it fails the People, Planet, Equity and Ethics components. Amazon is only about profits. It’s their brand management that spins the golden threads in this vast spider’s web…

As far as I know there are no large-scale Quintuple Bottom Line compliant companies on the planet. And capitalist models appear to be smokescreens to befuddle environmentally conscious yet still consumerist minds. It therefore seems to me that business empires are not sustainability friendly.

Despite this, I would never add the spiritual win to anyone’s accounting system. That’s between a person and their soul. Between Jeff Bezos and his source. Between him and the Universe…

It is my sense that a little space is best left open to allow Nothing in every now and again…. And despite his go-getter brashness, Jeff Bezos appears to be open to feedback and feedback loop corrections. This is a key component of his brand. What more can one ask of any person? Spiritually, Jeff Bezos is on track. It’s his customers, his president and the UN bosses who possibly aren’t… And the South African government departments at national and provincial levels whose weaknesses he possibly exploits?


Yet I could be wrong, for I am not God. Not anymore… (Insanity takes many forms, as you no doubt know…) I would, however, recommend that the stakeholders bewailing the potential and eminent loss of their beloved landscape to get together to draw up a counterproposal. How about taking Apple’s solar farm model and planting it in the desert. Add the largest telescope in the Southern hemisphere to it. And date palms from Pella. Along with a diversity of other trees and plants. And desalinate seawater. Add another Sun City for entertainment etc…

This might save some of the grasslands in Gauteng from being destroyed by subtracting one of the president’s brand new cities being built… And perhaps I could earn a few brownie points enabling Johannesburg to be declared both a grassland with seasonal wetlands and a man-made forest whose beautiful heritage exotic trees will remain protected. For as long as possible? As part of an eco-social just transition for the forest that is currently Johannesburg?