On Friday, March 24, 1989 an oil tanker from Exxon Mobil hit a reef off the coast of Valdez, Alaska, leaking millions of gallons of crude oil into the Prince William Sound. Considered to be one of the world’s worst oil spills, the environmental impact of this crisis was profound and raised public concern over corporate accountability. As one of the top ranked corporations in the United States at the time, Exxon Mobil became an example that epitomized the need for increased accountability measures that exceeded the corporate focus on profit (Fortune 500, 2005). While corporations tend to focus predominantly on profit, the sustainable development model and the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) hold corporations accountable on an environmental, social, and financial level. The Exxon Valdez oil spill provides an excellent example of why the TBL is imperative in a sustainable development model and can be used to develop better and more sustainable business ethics in the petroleum industry.
The Exxon Valdez oil spill exemplified the need for businesses to take into account the environmental and social impact of their business strategy as it impacts much more than just the financial sector. The sustainable development paradigm utilizes the components of the TBL accounting framework as a way for businesses to evaluate their business performance in a broader context. Instead of focusing solely on financial profit, the TBL expands this framework to include environmental and social impact analysis. This model shifts the responsibility of the corporation to its stakeholders as opposed to its shareholders (Gouldson, 2004, 137).
When applying the TBL framework to the Exxon Valdez oil spill, we will begin by looking at the environmental, or ecological impact of the event.
Fortune 500. (2005). Fortune 500: 1989 Profits. Retrieved from
Gouldson, A. (2004). Risk, regulation and the right to know: Exploring the impacts of access to information on the governance of environmental risk. Sustainable Development, 12:136-149.