The Triple Bottom Line, The Heart of Green Building: Sustainability is Good for Business

The triple bottom line is all about the benefits: people, planet profit. The question that the triple bottom line concept demands be asked is, “how can an enterprise balance what is best for their wallets with what is best for everyone else?” It’s surprising how often multiple concerns align.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has long been a big topic in the PR world, but it was seen as a way of building goodwill with the public in the hopes that, in the long term, that goodwill would serve as a kind of advertising, keeping the company’s name in the publics’ minds and keeping that name clean with positive associations. CSR includes community outreach, civic mindedness, charity and environmental responsibility, but, until fairly recently it was not viewed as a sound method of conducting everyday business in terms of profits.

The concept of the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) was conceived by John Elkington, the founder of British Consultancy, SustainAbility, in 1994. It’s an accounting philosophy that takes into account the benefits and costs for that business and their community, including employees, clients and the public, as well as the Earth itself. That’s the tagline, “People, Planet Profit: The Triple Bottom Line.”

The TBL is about the relationship that the project will have with its tenants, and clients, over its lifespan.

Regardless of the purpose of the building, the TBL considerations begin in the planning process. It entails choosing a location that is the least destructive to the ecosystem.

The best sites are tainted lands, like brownfields or existing buildings, as using the former reinvigorates degraded land, both eliminate the need for degrading new land and the latter dramatically reduces the resources exploited for new building materials while providing the added benefit of preventing urban blight.

When considering the TBL, the planning process must account for sourcing sustainable materials, for waste disposal and treatment and pollution, all during construction as well as for the environmental effects, especially in terms of waste and resource usage, over the lifespan of the building.

In the terms of a commercial enterprise, the TBL must keep profits in mind to be taken seriously.

It has been the most prominent obstacle that environmental movements have faced over the past half-century. The opposition of large companies, spending billions upon billions of dollars to weaken environmental regulations and to stymie the push by the EPA, and environmental groups, to ratchet up regulations and oversight has made it tough for the government to force change, but even more problematic has been many businesses reluctance to make the switch to sustainable practices because of the perception that it must be a hit to profit margins.

However, since the LEED rating system’s implementation in 1998, sustainable practices have been shown to be a financial boon for commercial enterprises. Green Buildings have shown the ability, not only to increase the happiness of their employees, saving money by reducing turnover, but also to reduce operational costs by 30%, according to 2014 U.S. GBC, Nev. Chapter President Daniel Huard.

The picture is a little different for residential buildings, especially private homes, but the triple bottom line is perhaps an even more substantial issue for urban residential developments. These types of projects have to consider the same issue that a business’s project must, but they must also consider the quality of life of their prospective residents. Whereas a business can make life easier for their employees, and garner points from LEED due to eco-friendliness, by catering to alternative means of transportation and walkability, a residential project must offer these feature to entice their renters, lessees, and buyers.

Urban developments have the opportunity to design mixed use buildings, combining first floor retail and commercial spaces with living units on the floors above. By filling the space in this manner the project can increase the usage and traffic per square footage, with every extra floor providing inhabited, productive space while using only the same area of land as a one story building. These residential projects can also maximize walkability, proximity to services, alternative transportation and plant proliferation.

Residential building projects are the exemplar of the “built environment,” usually focused on a few city blocks but even extending to a metropolitan area and at times uniquely defining themselves by regional characteristics.

Characteristics often considered within the built environment, this coexistence between nature and neighborhood, concern attention to a fairly standardized set of subject matter: density of development, mix of use, connectivity of the street network, scale of streets and aesthetic qualities. The last century has been the evolution of an agrarian society to one fueled by the constant evolution of technology, defined by the burning of fossil fuels.

If a building project looks only at short term, budget based bottom line, they may look to the cheapest land available and the cheapest methods of doing business in order to cut down on front end costs. But technology has grown, in mere decades, to the point that responsible, sustainable practices can do far more than help the outside world, they can substantially increase values, decrease overall costs and help the bottom line for everyone, including stakeholders.

One thought on “The Triple Bottom Line, The Heart of Green Building: Sustainability is Good for Business

  1. T. Caine says:

    “…but even more problematic has been many businesses reluctance to make the switch to sustainable practices because of the perception that it must be a hit to profit margins.”

    This is kind of the stumbling block of the ‘Triple Bottom Line’ when it comes to actual stewardship. I’ve always seen it as better than what we have, but not exactly an endgame. It’s an improvement that was built to operate without are current system rather than questioning the basic components of our the system works–what many would see as a vital step towards getting us to a society that would be remotely considered “sustainable.”

    The P/P/P mentality isn’t geared towards the question of whether or not we should be making a new product in the first place, despite the fact whether or not someone can sell it.

    More importantly, P/P/P is still used in a system that operates on the idea of continuous, indefinite growth; continuously growing revenues, continuously growing profits… If nature teaches us anything is that nothing can grow boundlessly forever–a lesson we have had trouble learning thus far.

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