John Elkington (business author)

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John Elkington
John Elkington 06.JPG
Born John Brett Elkington
(1949-06-23) 23 June 1949 (age 69)
Padworth, Berkshire, England, United Kingdom
Residence London, England, United Kingdom
Citizenship British
Alma mater University College London
Known for Triple Bottom Line
Awards 2011 Spencer Hutchens, Jr. Medal by the American Society for Quality (ASQ)
Scientific career

Social entrepreneurship

Institutions Volans

John Elkington (born June 23, 1949) is an author, advisor and serial entrepreneur, perhaps best known for coining such terms as environmental excellence, green growth, green consumer, the triple bottom line and People, Planet & Profit (or Prosperity). He is described as a world authority on corporate responsibility and sustainable development. He is currently a Founding Partner and Chairman & Chief Pollinator at Volans,[1] a future-focused business working at the intersection between the worlds of sustainability, entrepreneurship and innovation. He is also co-founder of SustainAbility[2] (1987, where he is now Honorary Chairman) and of Environmental Data Services (ENDS, 1978).


John Elkington was described by Business Week in 2004 as "a dean of the corporate responsibility movement for three decades." In 2008, the Evening Standard had named him among the ‘1000 Most Influential People’ in London, describing him as “a true green business guru,” and as “an evangelist for corporate social and environmental responsibility long before it was fashionable.” But his first involvement in the field dates back to 1961 when, aged 11, he raised money for the newly formed World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

He says he has always struggled to come up with a suitable elevator pitch to describe what he does, but he suggests that one way to think of it is that he and his colleagues serve as "grit in the corporate oyster," providing a "pro-business, pro-future" irritant around which new forms of value can form. His personal website and blog can be found here.

Somewhat to his own surprise, he turned out to be a serial entrepreneur. In 1978, he co-founded Environmental Data Services (ENDS) with David Layton and Max Nicholson. In 1983, he launched John Elkington Associates, later absorbed into SustainAbility. In 1987, with Julia Hailes and Tom Burke, he co-founded SustainAbility, a think tank and consultancy that works with businesses through markets in the pursuit of economic, social and environmental sustainability. Then, in 2008, he co-founded Volans Ventures with Pamela Hartigan, Sam Lakha, Geoff Lye and Kevin Teo.

He has coined a number of terms over the years, including environmental excellence (1984), green growth (1986, with SustainAbility billed as the "Green Growth Company" from 1987) and green consumer (1986). In 1994, he originated the term "Triple Bottom Line" and in 1995 the popularisation, People, Planet & Profit (or, alternatively, Prosperity).

He has won awards from, among others, the United Nations, Fast Company, the American Society for Quality, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Skoll Foundation. In 2009, a CSR International survey of the Top 100 CSR leaders placed John fourth: after Al Gore, Barack Obama and the late Anita Roddick of the Body Shop, and alongside Muhammad Yunus of the Grameen Bank. He is a visiting professor at Cranfield University School of Management, Imperial college and UCL. In 2014, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Essex.

He is a member of over 20 boards and advisory boards. His Who's Who entry, dating from 2009, lists his recreations as: “playing with ideas, thinking around corners, conversations with unreasonable people, reading an Alpine range of books (history to science fiction) and US business and science magazines, risking life and limb as a London cyclist, catch-it-as-you-can photography, art and design, writing all hours, pre-1944 aircraft, New World wines, 20th century popular music–and Johann Strauss II.”

He has written or co-authored 19 books, including 1988’s million-selling Green Consumer Guide, 1997’s Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business, the book which brought his triple bottom line concept and agenda to a wider audience, and 2008’s The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change the World, co-authored with Volans co-founder Pamela Hartigan. His most recent book, co-authored with Jochen Zeitz, former Chairman and CEO of PUMA, and now co-Chair with Sir Richard Branson of The B Team, is The Breakthrough Challenge: 10 Ways to Connect Tomorrow's Profits with Tomorrow's Bottom Line (Jossey-Bass, 2014).

Books For background on what follows, see here. There follows a listing of selected books authored or co-authored by John Elkington (19 published to date; foreign language editions not included, though there were some 20 of The Green Consumer Guide alone):

  • "The Breakthrough Challenge: 10 Ways to Connect Today's Profits With Tomorrow's Bottom Line," by John Elkington and Jochen Zeitz (Authors), with a foreword by Sir Richard Branson (hardcover, Jossey-Bass, 2014)
  • "The Zeronauts: Breaking the Sustainability Barrier," by John Elkington (hardcover, Routledge/Taylor & Francis, 2012)
  • The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change the World by John Elkington and Pamela Hartigan (Authors), Klaus Schwab (Foreword), (hardcover, Harvard Business School Press, 2008)
  • The Chrysalis Economy: How Citizen CEOs and Corporations Can Fuse Values and Value Creation, by John Elkington (hardcover, Capstone/John Wiley, 2001)
  • Manual 2000 by John Elkington and Julia Hailes (paperback, 1998)
  • Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business by John Elkington (Capstone/John Wiley, hardcover, 1997)
  • The Green Consumer: Revised Edition by Joel Makower, John Elkington, and Julia Hailes (paperback, Tilden Press, 1993)
  • Holidays That Don't Cost the Earth by John Elkington and Julia Hailes (Gollancz, paperback, 1992)
  • The Green Business Guide by John Elkington and Peter Knight (Victor Gollancz, 1991)
  • The Green Consumer Supermarket Shopping Guide by John Elkington, and Julia Hailes (Gollancz, paperback, 1991)
  • A Year in the Greenhouse: An Environmental Diary by John Elkington (Gollancz, hardcover, 1990)
  • The Young Green Consumer's Guide by John Elkington, Julia Hailes, Douglas Hill, and Tony Ross (Gollancz, paperback, 1990)
  • The Green Consumer Guide: From Shampoo to Champagne: High-Street Shopping for a Better Environment by John Elkington & Julia Hailes (Gollancz, paperback, 1988)
  • Green Pages by John Elkington, Tom Burke, and Julia Hailes (Routledge, paperback, 1988)
  • The Green Capitalists: Industry's Search for Environmental Excellence by John Elkington with Tom Burke (Gollancz, hardcover, 1987)
  • The Poisoned Womb: Human Reproduction in a Polluted World (Viking, hardback 1986, Pelican, paperback, 1987)
  • The Gene Factory: Inside the Genetic and Biotechnology Business Revolution (Century, hardcover, 1985)
  • Sun Traps: The Renewable Energy Forecast (Pelican, paperback, 1984)
  • The Ecology of Tomorrow's World (Associated Business Press, hardcover, 1980)

Selected forewords (around 20 done to date):

  • Can the World Be Wrong? Where Global Public Opinion Says We're Headed, by Doug Miller, Greenleaf Publishing, paperback, 2015
  • Making Sustainability Work: Best Practices in Managing and Measuring Corporate Social, Environmental and Economic Impacts by Marc J Epstein (Author), John Elkington (Foreword), Herman B Leonard (Foreword), (2008)
  • The Sustainability Advantage: Seven Business Case Benefits of a Triple Bottom Line by Bob Willard (Author), John Elkington (Foreword), (2002)
  • ISO 14001 and Beyond, edited by Christopher Sheldon, Greenleaf Publishing, paperback, 1997
  • The Natural House Book by David Pearson (Conran Octopus, hardback, 1992)

Selected chapters/essays in other books:

  • Military for Sustainability, Glimpse 7-4, by John Elkington, pp 185–189 in Jørgen Randers, 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years, a report to the Club of Rome, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2012
  • The Phoenix Economy: Agenda for a Sustainable Future, by John Elkington, in The World That Changes the World: How Philanthropy, Innovation and Entrepreneurship are Transforming the Social Ecosystem, edited by Willie Cheng and Sharifah Mohamed, Jossey-Bass/Wiley, hardback, 2010
  • Is It Possible to Sustain Asia?, by John Elkington and Jodie Thorpe, in Asia: Changing the World, edited by Liz Mohn and Wolfgang Schüssel, Verlag Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2007
  • From Corporate Responsibility to Good Governance and Scalable Solutions, by Seb Beloe, John Elkington and Jodie Thorpe, in Corporate Social Responsibility: Reconciling Aspiration with Application, edited by Andrew Kakabadse and Mette Morsing, Palgrave Macmillan, hardback, 2006
  • Can Business Help Governments Change the System?, by Seb Beloe, John Elkington and Jodie Thorpe, in The Accountable Corporation, Volume 4: Business-Government Relations, edited by Marc J. Epstein and Kirk O. Hanson, Praeger Publishers, hardback, 2006
  • This River Runs Through Me, by John Elkington, pp 151–153 in Bryanston Reflections: Et Nova Et Vetera, Third Millennium Publishing, hardback, 2005
  • Globalization's Reality Check, by John Elkington in David Held et al., Debating Globalization, Polity Press, paperback, 2005
  • Enter the Triple Bottom Line, by John Elkington, in The Triple Bottom Line: Does It All Add Up?, edited by Adrian Henriques and Julie Richardson, Earthscan, paperback, 2004
  • Social and Environmental Reporting, by John Elkington, in Governance and Risk: An Analytical Handbook for Investors, Managers, Directors & Stakeholders, by George Dallas, McGraw-Hill, hardback, 2004
  • Economy, by John Elkington, pp 203–233 in Our World in Focus: Moving Toward a Sustainable Future, Earth Pledge Foundation and Magnum, hardback, 2003
  • London & The Thames, by John Elkington, pp 152–157, in The English Landscape, with an introduction by Bill Bryson, Profile Books, hardback, 2000
  • Poisons to Burn or Bury: Environment Special Report, by John Elkington, pp 364–365, Encyclopædia Britannica, 1984 Book of the Year

Selected reports (over 50 authored or co-authored reports published to date, with an earlier list available here):

  • The Stretch Agenda: Breakthrough in the Boardroom, Volans and the Generation Foundation, paperback 2015
  • Interface: The Untold Story of Mission Zero, Volans and Interface, paperback 2014
  • Investing in Breakthrough: Corporate Venture Capital, with Charmian Love and Amanda Feldman, Volans with Global Corporate Venturing, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Social Investment Business, paperback 2014
  • Breakthrough: Business Leaders, Market Revolutions, Volans, paperback 2013
  • The Future Quotient: 50 Stars in Seriously Long-Term Innovation, Volans and JWT Ethos, paperback 2011
  • The Transparent Economy: Six Tigers Stalk the Global Recovery--and How to Tame Them, Volans for the Global Reporting Initiative, paperback 2010
  • The Phoenix Economy: 50 Pioneers in the Business of Social Innovation, Volans for the Skoll Foundation, paperback 2009
  • The Biosphere Economy: Natural Limits Can Spur Creativity, Innovation and Growth, Alejandro litovsky and John Elkington, Volans with Tellus Mater and Business for the Environment (B4E), paperback 2010
  • For rep[orts from the SustainAbility years, see here
  • Cleaning Up: US Waste Management Technology and Third World Development (World Resources Institute Papers,) by John Elkington and Jonathan Shopley (World Resources Institute, paperback, 1989)
  • Thailand: Natural Resources Profile (Natural Resources of South-East Asia) by Anat Arbhabhirama, Dhira Phantumvanit, and John Elkington (hardcover, 1988)
  • The Shrinking Planet: US Information Technology and Sustainable Development (WRI Paper, No 3) by John Elkington and Jonathan Shopley (1988)
  • Double Dividends? US Biotechnology and Third World Development," WRI Paper, No 2 (paperback, November 1986)
  • Bio-Japan: The emerging Japanese challenge in biotechnology, (paperback, 1985)


Over the past 30 years, John Elkington has served on over 70 boards and advisory boards.

  • Among Boards he currently serves on are those for the Biomimicry Institute, the Social Stock Exchange,The Ecological Sequestration Trust (TEST) and Volans.
  • Among Advisory Boards he is currently a member of are those for 2degrees, the B Team, Covestro/Bayer MaterialScience, EcoVadis, the Friends Life Stewardship Committee of Reference, Guardian Sustainable Business, Nestlé (Creating Shared Value Advisory Council), Polecat, Tesco, and Zouk Capital.
  • He is also a Senior Advisor to the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre and a Member of the WWF Council of Ambassadors




  1. ^ "Volans". Volans. Retrieved 31 May 2013. 
  2. ^ "Independent think tank and strategy consultancy". SustainAbility. Retrieved 31 May 2013. 
  3. ^ "John Elkington 1981". Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. Retrieved May 28, 2016. 

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