Blog: The Triple Bottom Line Redefined
By Mary Fritz
Whether it’s fully developed and at the forefront of your mind or vaguely defined and rarely considered, everyone has a slightly different concept of social impact. There are broad areas of overlap – most of us agree that better education, access to healthcare, and improved local economies provide inherent social impact. Divergence of opinion often begins with questions like “how much?” and “for whom?” And it’s a little bit of a tougher sell to convince a room that environmental health is inherently social.
There are various reasons for this disagreement: environmental health is one step removed from human health, environmental suffering is less apparent and less heart-wrenching than human suffering, etc. But I’d like to make the argument that, from a longer term perspective (which, as a slow money fund, is where we focus), environmental health is human health – and it’s one of the biggest levers we can hope to pull. This isn’t coming from some hippie worshipping Mother Gaia, either – here are 3 big, pragmatic reasons why.
1. Environmental justice. It’s not new or surprising news that low income and disadvantaged communities are disproportionately affected by poor environmental quality. This is just as true in the U.S. as it is abroad. In the short term, think higher incidences of diabetes, asthma, absences from work – all factors that can trap people in the poverty cycle. In the long term, think food and water scarcity, displacement, war – all because of….
2. Climate change. A couple of years ago, we considered climate change to be a problem for future generations. It’s becoming increasingly clear that we were wrong, that climate change is a problem already affecting our generation and likely to be worse than previously estimated. And guess what – low income and disadvantaged communities are and will be disproportionately affected here, too.
3. Systems. Environmental issues are inextricably linked to every problem we’re trying to solve. To illustrate this, here’s a systems map courtesy of Ross’s McGraw Professor of Sustainable Enterprise Tom Gladwin:
As evidenced in the diagram, when ecosystem health decreases, poverty prevalence increases. As climate change increases, water availability decreases, and poverty prevalence increases. Of course, if you want to add more nodes to it, it gets messier:
But the point is that environmental problems affect and exacerbate virtually all other problems. And because we are degrading environmental systems to the point where they can no longer support us, these effects will continue to intensify.
The triple bottom line is a myth; it’s a double bottom line: environmental is social. There are plenty of supporting arguments beyond those I’ve listed here, but the takeaway is clear: investing in environmental well-being is investing in positive, measurable human impact.