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The triple top line: a conceptual tool

In this section we will be taking you through the triple top line tool and discussing it's sustainable benefits.
The Triple Top Line A Conceptual Tool
© RMIT University 2017

It can be rather challenging for businesses to balance traditional economics/profit objectives with social and environmental needs. This may be particularly true for those organisations that are not yet ready to embrace the change in mindset toward becoming a sustainable business. This is also true for those who believe that going green simply means doing more with less.

Currently, the debate is not about integrating sustainability into business (as usefully guided by the triple bottom line tool), but rather it is about new opportunities that are both innovative and value creating.

The triple top line (TTL) is a modern conceptual tool that aims to make products – from the very beginning of the design idea – with no impact on the social and ecological world. The TTL is often portrayed as a triangle with equity, ecology and economy at each point. Such a diagram aims to shift the emphasis away from the exclusive pursuit of economic gain to identify the value of the environment and to have equitable outcomes for humans, for example, for workers and consumers.

(Note: The diagram incorporates the TBL and TTL models.)

The triple top line concept was coined by William McDonough and Michael Braungart (2002) in their ground breaking book ‘Cradle to Cradle’. Their key message is that waste equals food, meaning that the manufacturing of goods does not need to damage the environment through waste or pollution.

Read the excellent article by GreenBiz: 5 Ways to Achieve Top Line Business Value Through Sustainability to see how the TTL approach reveals products that cause no harm to the environment, create no waste, are authentic in their origins or that bring benefits to consumers (i.e. new technology fabrics that can hold moisture, regulate the body temperature and can be composted). Also listen to a Deloitte Canada video: Triple top-line benefits of a green supply which discusses the triple top-line and the benefits to business.

At the base of a TTL perspective there is the creation of products or services that actually increase value not only efficiency. The missing component in the eco-efficiency view is the social dimension of sustainability. On the other hand, the TTL focuses on the integration of economic, environmental and ethical concerns. This does not mean that businesses should stop at minimising impacts considered harmful, but rather that they should maximise those impacts that are actually positive to the environment and the society. Instead of focusing on the reduction of waste and energy consumption, businesses that adopt a TTL approach concentrate on products that can endlessly be recycled and reused for something else; essentially waste-free.

Please read “Design for the Triple Top Line paper which provides more details about the triple top line model.

You might also be interested in finding out more about the “Cradle to Cradle” website.

Spend some time researching the internet, to find companies that have applied a triple top line approach in their business and share in the Comments area how they did it, and what the impact was.
© RMIT University 2017
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