The Triple Bottom Line: redefined.
Sustainability and the Triple Bottom Line
Many definitions of sustainability refer to the triple bottom line like a stool with three legs. Each leg represents the environment, society and the economy. The exercise of removing one leg at a time shows a hierarchy of importance.
The real definition of the triple bottom line
Let’s take away the economy first. What will happen to society and environment? The environment will be fine, while society will enter into chaos at first, remembering the economy is a man-made construct designed to deliver goods from the environment to society. How will society access food and materials for life? With great difficulty! It will continue to exist, albeit in a state of confusion and hardship.
Alternatively, let’s remove society. Obviously, the economy will disappear, although the environment will be fine.
Lastly, let’s remove the environment. Society would struggle to survive without access to food, water or clean air. The lack of goods to trade would destroy the economy as the market relies on the environment to provide resources.
Sustainability is often explained using this image:
The economy, with its businesses and markets, are situated within our society, which itself is situated within the environment. This shows society and the economy completely reliant on a healthy environment.
The three pillars of sustainability are in fact layers within an encompassing egg. Not individual legs of a stool, but intertwined elements.
The Circular Economy
Nature works in cycles that endure. For the relationship between the environment, society and the economy to endure, the circular economy has emerged as a system that uses and creates materials that flow in the economy without the need to extract from or pollute the environment.
Understanding our true reliances and placing the appropriate values in the correct places will purposefully guide our decisions and actions.