Triple Bottom Line

The Triple Bottom Line


The Brundtland Commission expanded the scope and time horizon of what then was on the minds of internationalists and the U.N., the economic development of poor nations. Brundtland supported the well being of poor people but also recognized the basic ecological threats that were becoming undeniable. Thus, by attempting to find a path to reconcile these broad ecological, economic, and social concerns, Brundtland altered the paradigm, the basic way of thinking, about sustainable development.


The incorporation of ecology, economy, and society into world sustainability is a fundamental theme for World Sustainability. Advocates for sustainability in commerce, like Triple Pundit (People, Planet, Profits) also have adopted the notion of the triple bottom line. The triple bottom line was a central theme within the Brundtland Commission.


The concept of the triple bottom line widens the scope and complexity of decision-making about sustainability into three realms or domains of activities:

  1. The ecological realm tracks the environmental aspects of decision-making, augmenting what is often left out of political and economic decision-making. We can divide the ecological dimension into the realm of the geophysical world and the realm of the natural world. The physical and natural worlds provide the foundation, or grounding, of the economic and social realms.
  2. The economic realm examines how actions and decisions lead to development (not physical growth) effects. This implies that sustainability need not conflict with ecological considerations that point to the physical and natural world. 
  3. The social realm examines culture and institutions (such as nations, communities, households and families), raising issues of gender, class, race, poverty, inequality, power, inclusion and exclusion, etc.


Why the term "bottom line?"

The term “triple bottom line” comes from a term used in accounting and finance: the bottom line. The bottom line means the money or income left over after all is said and done; all inflows and outflows are accounted for, and the bottom line is what is left over for the next operating period. The bottom line is key in determining a large portion of financial indicators (earnings per share, return on equity, etc.), and therefore is of extreme significance to those in business.



Dave, I did not invention triple bottom line phrase for world sustainability. Schroyer and Golodik use it. I find it awkward and ambiguous. What about use in "green accounting"? ~WH