We write and speak frequently on using incentives to achieve community goals. We’ve suggested a few resources for conducting cost-benefit analyses and estimating ROI. We’ve also addressed the ways incentives can support sustainability objectives. Our past blog posts on sustainability are here and here.

The Triple Bottom Line tool is another resource communities can use, one that combines both cost-benefit and sustainability concepts. Today, guest blogger Dr. Janet Hammer explains how:


Smart incentives ensure that economic development investments create and retain jobs while supporting community goals for livability, opportunity, and good governance.  Smart investments recognize that economic, environmental, and social well-being are connected and ensure that public investments support performance across these three goals.  In this post we’ll take look at this concept and an on-line tool that is available to help communities achieve these smart investment objectives. 

The Triple Bottom Line Concept

The triple bottom (TBL) line is a term that refers to the economic, environmental, and social performance of investments.  The term was coined in the 1990s as a way to address important investment value that may not appear in the financial bottom line. The concept is also referred to as the 3Ps (people, planet, profit) or sustainability.

The TBL concept has become increasingly important as investors, decision-makers, and practitioners aim to improve accounting and transparency, strengthen investment performance, and align investments with overarching community priorities.  As Don Schjeldahl pointed out in “The Coming Era of Sustainability,” (IEDC Economic Development Journal Fall 2013) a growing number of economic developers are trying to address the topic as they respond to community expectations as well as demands from site selectors and growing businesses.

Tools to achieve and assess TBL performance have been created in economic development related areas such as the built environment and business and portfolio investment. However, to date, there has not been a tool to help achieve and describe triple bottom line performance in economic development. Responding to this gap, the US Economic Development Administration (EDA) commissioned an on-line Triple Bottom Line Tool that can be used by public, private, non-profit, and philanthropic organizations that approve, fund, or engage in economic development.

A Triple Bottom Line Tool

The Triple Bottom Line Tool (TBL Tool) is an easy-to-use, on-line platform that organizations can use to help ensure that incentives align with community goals and deliver strong performance across a range of economic, environmental, and social factors.

The TBL Tool can strengthen the incentive process in a number of ways.  For example, it can be used to prioritize proposals, conduct due diligence, configure bid documents, or communicate with stakeholders (e.g., decision-makers, funders, community). 

Recognizing that one size does not fit all, the tool provides a research-based, industry-vetted framework that is responsive to various types of communities and projects.  Whether it is used to review incentive applications, negotiate contract provisions, or track deliverables, the TBL Tool can help communities ensure that incentives align with goals for economic vitality, natural resource stewardship, and community well-being.  

TBL Tool Early Adopter Program

The development team is currently accepting participants into its early adopter program, which is designed to help organizations successfully apply the TBL Tool and share lessons learned.  If you are interested in learning more about the TBL Tool or early adopter program you may contact the director, Dr. Janet Hammer, at hammer(at)pdx.edu.