Let’s hear it for the Triple Bottom Line

A paradigm shift occurred when in 1981 Freer Spreckley first  articulated the notion of the Triple Bottom Line. He pointed out that the old way of accounting that just took income and subtracted costs was an inaccurate way of assessing the viability and success of many enterprises. Instead he advocated looking at three indices to judge the success of a venture: people, planet and profit. With this paradigm shift suddenly sustainable design, green interior design and other ‘green’ ideas became less ‘loony’, and indeed they became ‘profitable’.


It stands to common reason that living in an unhealthy atmosphere is bad for the economy. This is something that even China will realize eventually. Medical bills and lost days at work do not help the economy or people’s quality of life. Using flooring and other furnishing that reduces allergic reactions and asthma attacks is a good and vital thing. Moreover removing formaldehyde, benzene and other harmful volatile organic compounds that are in paint, thinners, glue, furniture polish, air fresheners, dry cleaned clothes etc. makes us feel healthier and happier. It might cost money to buy zero VOC paint but this is off-set by the benefit it provides to people. People need clean air, clean water and clean food to be productive.


We are part of the planet and if the planet suffers we do too. Thus these two indices are very much connected. It is very much in our interests to stop pollution of the air, water and land. We can help to do this by using earth friendly detergents and other materials that do not contaminate vital resources. A planet without trees would leave us all dying of carbon poisoning. It is thus vital to buy hardwood products from sustainable forestry projects or to use reclaimed hardwood flooring. Another good idea is to use renewable resources that can meet our needs in a sustainable way such as bamboo, coconut, cork and rattan.

Also by buying Energy Star approved products we are improving energy efficiency and thereby reducing carbon emissions from power plants. Neither the planet nor people can benefit by climate change.


The old method of looking at money is still relevant under the Triple Bottom Line. Often green interior design and sustainable design actually saves money. Better insulation, green roofs and digital programmable thermostats all help to reduce heating and cooling costs. They all pay for themselves in the long run and then go on to make a profit. The same is true for solar en energy. Photovoltaic cells may cost a lot to buy and install but this green energy is ‘free’ and eventually helps to turn a profit. Another example is lighting: switching from incandescent lights to compact fluorescent light bulbs or LEDs quickly pays for itself and continues to generate savings.

Those hardnosed traditional capitalists who think going green is a load of expensive nonsense are behind the times. We need a deeper way of assessing profit and loss. Nature is not cost neutral; resources like water and oil are not limitless; and human health is surely something we all value. The Triple Bottom Line makes profound sense.