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  • Writer's pictureMark Talbot

TBL: The Triple Bottom Line

During and throughout the industrial era, almost every economists viewed capital only in the forms of money, factories, manufactured goods, etc. These were the principal metrics by which industrial production & output were measured.

Most, if they perceived it at all, they saw natural/environmental and human capital as sideline contributors. This exclusion of the human & natural capital from balance sheets was an understandable oversight. Back then, these resources were so copious and seemingly limitless, nobody viewed it as worth counting. In addition, those resources were much more difficult to measure and assign value to than the hard digits of monetary capital.

The prevailing assumption has been that we're making everything more efficient, and in some sense that's true; for many parts of the world at least, human lives are better in many ways. However, these improvements have been gained through a disgustingly inefficient and often inhumane use of natural and human resources. It is one thing to demonstrate that I can 'efficiently' dig a hole into which I will then fall. It is quite another to thoughtfully consider why and how I am digging that hole, and to effectively imagine and create outcomes that minimize negative impacts and maximize beautiful, useful and creative results.

In my view, it has become essential that we revise our economic thinking to not only acknowledge but also find accurate ways to measure the full value of our natural and human resources. A revised economic view will balance and enhance the underlying theory of free-market capitalism - and in practice we will see a decrease in suffering for all sentient beings and a highly optimized way of utilizing existing resources. Such a view will provide business and public policy with a potent new mechanism for economic development, profitability, and the promotion of the public good. It is not just about using existing resources a little less - that's like saying we'll agree to simply kill ourselves more slowly. It's about tuning and optimizing these natural and human gifts into a self-sustaining, churning engine of prosperity and happiness for all.

In conclusion, I'll paraphrase John Elkington, the founder of a British consultancy called SustainAbility who said, "... Its long past time we understand the full cost of accounting and acknowledge the TBL (Triple Bottom Line) of Human, Environmental, Monetary Capital" [1]

Thanks John, for inspiring this post. And as always, thank you all for your time and discerning attention.

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