The triple bottom line represents a new way of thinking about green buildings and sustainability: truly appropriate measures need to incorporate consideration of ecology/environment, economy and (social) equity (the three Es), or people, planet and profits (the three Ps). The triple bottom line contrasts with the traditional business bottom line, which considers only profits. Clearly businesses have been moving away from a profits-only orientation for quite some time, as the corporate social responsibility movement has taken hold: getting and keeping good employees who care about the environment and about the local community has become a central element in profitability.
In the past few years, the green building movement has pushed many companies to rethink their entire approach to development, emphasizing energy efficiency and LEED ratings in their real estate offerings. Good examples of this movement abound. At the 2007 “Green Cities” conference in Sydney, Australia, the entire large property development industry in Australia appeared lined up behind the idea that green buildings promoted higher property values and enabled them to acquire better tenants and buyers. Late in 2006 prominent real estate consultant Charles Lockwood claimed that “trillions of dollars of commercial property…around the world will become obsolete — and will drop in value” because green buildings are going mainstream.
My book, Developing Green: Strategies for Success, presents the overwhelming business-case benefits of green buildings. These benefits include not only the expected utility savings, but also improved health and well-being of employees, easier property marketing and better public relations, ease in getting both debt and equity capital for development, and improved retention of key employees. There is no better example of how the triple bottom line works than green buildings. We can improve the urban and natural environment, save energy, reduce infrastructure investment costs and gain better health and morale of the workforce through the simple act of better building design. So, what is stopping us?
Architect William McDonough also talks about the “triple top line”: thinking of these three things together allows one to grow profits while also improving environment and enhancing equity. In other words each aspect wins, and there is no tradeoff required between economic efficiency, environment and social equity. If you find this is not the case, you have to go back to the drawing board and try harder! In a 2002 essay Mc Donough and his collaborator, Dr. Michael Braungart, state:
A business strategy focused solely on the bottom line, however, can obscure opportunities to pursue innovation and create value in the design process. New tools for sustainable design can refocus product development from a process aimed at limiting end-of-pipe liabilities to one geared to creating safe, quality products right from the start