The idea of the triple bottom line emerged in the early 1980's through a recognition that sometimes when we pursue business or personal goals, we can inadvertently cause a negative impact on other people or environments which in turn may present a threat to our future goals or the future lifestyles of our children. The three pillars that make up the triple bottom line are the economy, environment & society.
The triple bottom line and other related decision-making frameworks (sometimes known also as 3 Pillars or People, Planet, Profit) have been developed to help us to evaluate our decisions and whether they are having these negative impacts on one or more of the pillars. They share a desire to help us make decisions that will achieve sustainable development.
At My Farm Shop, we agree with the United Nations that "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". And we agree with Alessandro Vercelli that "economic development can only be considered sustainable when future generations are guaranteed a set of options at least as wide as that possessed by the current generation".
Unfortunately, at the moment, we struggle to prevent ourselves from trading off one of the pillars with the others. Most often, the environment or social pillars are compromised by the economic pillar in a pragmatic recognition that 'you can't be green if you're in the red'. For example, reasons often given for the intensive 'factory' production, or live export of animals for meat, is because consumers aren't prepared to pay higher prices so that farmers can make a realistic livelihood from more natural (and socially acceptable) farming practices.
Another example is the 'slow mining of the soil' through continuous cropping to produce high-yielding wheat and other grains, or over-grazing of livestock. This steadily and systemically consumes soil resources and may result in that area of land becoming unsuitable for food production in future. The overwhelming majority of farmers don't want to degrade their land - they want to leave it in better shape than they got it. But they don't want to live in poverty either and the current economics of food supply is such that farmers, in general, don't earn enough for selling their produce to reinvest in their soils and leave enough left over to live on. We need to find a way that we can design food systems such that they not only provide healthy food, but will do so forever.
My Farm Shop recognises that the three pillars - economy, environment, society - that make up the triple bottom line are interdependent and that a true balance of them is achieved by designing enterprises so that they are economically sustainable because they have good environmental and social performance.
So when we say that we are working with farmers and customers to truly balance the triple bottom line, we mean that we are developing a supply chain for healthy produce that helps build healthy people AND produces high environmental performance on our agricultural land AND generates sufficient livelihoods for farmers AND reinvests to produce resources so that future generations can have this too!