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Analyzing the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Using the Triple Bottom Line Accounting Framework

Analyzing the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Using the Triple Bottom Line Accounting Framework

When we take into consideration the events and company policies leading up to the disaster, as well as the aftermath, the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (EVOS) can be said to have been a major failure on the part of Exxon executives, no matter which accounting framework lens you want to look through. Exxon suffered great monetary losses and took a massive blow to its reputation due to its ineffectiveness in ensuring safeguards were in place in the event that an accident like this may occur, and due to its inability to ensure that a proper remediation of the affected area would ensue in the case such an event ever occurred. The essay writer Alaskan shoreline communities suffered not only massive financial losses, which to this day have not been reversed, but have suffered equally devastating impacts to their environment and to their social structure. By 1991, Exxon was well on its way to economic recovery, showing profits of $2.2 billion for their first quarter financial reports (Gillis, 2011). The communities that were directly affected by the EVOS were not as fortunate to say the least. To this day the community still must deal with the aftereffects of the EVOS, and while much research has been done to investigate the exact conditions, little has been done to alleviate the suffering of the community. 

After the Exxon Valdez “ran aground in the Prince William Sound and discharged millions of gallons of crude oil, the real disaster began to unfold — marine life began to die, fisheries collapsed, fisherman lost their livelihoods, and families fell apart” (Borisov, 2011). Neighboring communities suffered permanent and irreversible damage due to the EVOS. Gill, Picou, and Ritchie (2011) analyzed the initial social and psychological impacts of the disaster on the residents of Cordova, Alaska. They found the subjects of the study to have suffered from high levels of psychological stress due to family health concerns, commercial ties to renewable resources, and concerns about their economic futures, economic loss, and exposure to the oil. 

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While some business sectors have had an easier time transitioning to a more sustainable developmental approach, it has been far more challenging for the international petroleum industry. “Companies must think in terms of a triple bottom line, focusing on economic prosperity, environmental quality, and social justice,” (Elkington, 1999, p. 139). Though Elkington is not the first to suggest this manner of approach when assessing a company’s overall impact, his triple bottom line (TBL) was well received by the global community. As the demand for energy, water, and other resources increases, and with our scientific experts predicting resource shortages, this TBL approach to business will become more relevant as the world begins to realize the consequences of our actions. 

When corporate entities restrict themselves to traditional accounting methods, i.e. “bottom line” accounting, and when the economic experts solely consider outdated economic concepts such as the GDP, which takes into account only one measure of progress, namely economic “activity”, which is then assumed to be on equal ground with economic “prosperity”, we leave ourselves in a a very compromising position where we are easily mislead by economical data. Braungart and McDonough (2002) make this point clear when they say: “The 1991 Exxon Valdez oil spill actually increased Alaska’s gross domestic product. The Prince William Sound area was registered as economically more prosperous because so many people were trying clean up the spill. Restaurants, hotels, shops, gas stations, and stores all experienced an upward blip in economic exchange” (p. 36). While it is understandable that Exxon officials would try anything, ethical or not, to quell the growing concerns and anger directed at them, these conflicting reports were a major factor in the hindrance of recovery efforts. Barker (1994) commented on what he perceived to be unsatisfactory efforts by all involved when he remarked, “You get a guy with four PhDs saying no fish were hurt, then you get a guy with four PhDs saying, yeah, a lot of fish were hurt… . They just kind of delete each other out” (p. 74)……………


Gillis, C. (2011). Exxon Valdez: A brief history. Retrieved from   

Borisov, B. (2011). The aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Law School Student             Scholarship, Paper 15. Retrieved from

Gill, D. A., Picou, J. S., & Ritchie, L. A. (2011). The Exxon Valdez and BP oil spills: A          comparison of initial social and psychological impacts. American Behavioral Scientist,         56, 3-23.

Elkington, J. (1999). Triple bottom line: Implications for the oil industry. Oil and Gas Journal,           97 (50), 139-141.

Braungart, M., & McDonough, W. (2002). Cradle to cradle: Remaking the way we make    things. New York, NY: North Point Press.

Barker, E. (1994). The Exxon trial: A do it yourself jury. American Lawyer, Nov., 68-77.

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By Hanna Robinson

Hanna has won numerous writing awards. She specializes in academic writing, copywriting, business plans and resumes. After graduating from the Comosun College's journalism program, she went on to work at community newspapers throughout Atlantic Canada, before embarking on her freelancing journey.

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