The Triple Bottom Line is not a new concept, but it is one worth revisiting regularly. It offers many benefits in numerous ways.
Some would suggest that our communities are becoming more divided. We take an interest on a particular topic or perspective and lean heavily on it, often at the expense of logic or relationships.
What is needed is balance. The concept of the Triple Bottom Line can help achieve balance in at least some circumstances.
The word “sustainability” is used widely, yet how it is used is quite varied, to the point that two people can talk about it and not be communicating. In the boardroom, it is about financial sustainability. In social justice circles it is about human sustainability. Many with a passion for the environment think of sustainability in terms of environmental sustainability.
All of these usages are legitimate, yet all fall short if used in isolation from the others.
The Triple Bottom Line holds that an action or decision or lifestyle is not truly sustainable unless we factor in social, environmental and economic sustainability. If we dismiss any one of those, sustainability can be compromised.
Many of the public debates are fueled by one or the other side only looking at the bottom line that interests them. The resultant debate sounds like two people speaking different languages. Communication could be greatly enhanced if we understand what kind of sustainability others are talking about. Often the term “sustainability” will not be used, but if we learn what their bottom line is, understanding will improve even if agreement does not. Many projects and programs fall short of expectations because all three of the considerations were not fully addressed.
Vocabulary drives a culture. When we use the concept of sustainability differently, our communities are compromised. Would it be beneficial if we add the term “Triple Bottom Line” to our vocabulary, and use it to remind ourselves and others that broad analysis will make for better, more informed decisions? Would it also bring mutual understanding and community harmony?
When a new development is proposed in our community, would it be helpful if we methodically considered its impact on people, on the environment, and on the economy, rather than simply concluding it is a good or bad idea based on a single bottom line?
If a new government program is considered, would it help if we evaluate it on its impact on people, on the planet and the economy, overtly?
When we choose where to make our purchases, do we consider the impact of that decision on our community, on our economy, and on the environment?
When any decision is made, would it bring a better closing if we stated the impact it has on people, profit and planet, acknowledging the compromises needed in order to make the decision?
The visual image we use in our country to depict justice is a statue holding a balance scale. Given the concept of the Triple Bottom Line, maybe that balance has three, not two, sides.
Dave Bartholomew is retired after a career as a business adviser to leaders around the world. He and his wife Nancy also owned Simply Living Farm, a retailer of goods for a sustainable life. Prior to that he was CEO of several manufacturing companies in the outdoor recreation industry. He has authored three books, written numerous regular columns and taught at many universities. He can be reached at email@example.com.