Sustainable economic development is reportedly important to a majority of economic development leaders, yet a triple bottom line approach is not a common practice. Why?

The authors of a recent article in Economic Development Quarterly, “The Triple Bottom Line and Sustainable Economic Development Theory and Practice,” offer some reasons and propose a set of remedies.

First, economic development training and credentialing tends not to address the triple bottom line (TBL) or sustainable economic development. Simply put, professionals are not being equipped to address these issues as a matter of course. Second, the daily realities of an economic development professional often serve as a disincentive to TBL approaches. In many cases not only is there a lack of incentive or mandate to address TBL issues, there are disincentives to doing so. This includes pressure to seek near-term “wins” when triple bottom line efforts often require longer time horizons. The good news is that TBL practices may be occurring more often than reported. That is, some economic developers undertake activities that are consistent with sustainable economic development values but do so without the terminology being applied.

What can be done to overcome identified obstacles and advance the practice of sustainable economic development? The authors suggest the following:

  • Incorporate sustainability content into economic development credentialing and academic programs so that professionals have a strong foundation of knowledge and skills.
  • Use the TBL Tool or a comparable framework to plan for and assess TBL economic development.
  • Develop professional standards and rewards for TBL approaches to economic development in order to enhance visibility and capacity regarding this topic.
  • Continue to engage in research that advances sustainable economic development theory and practice, including conducting ongoing practitioner surveys in order to track progress over time and identify important themes.

For more information on the subject, please see Janet Hammer and Gary Pivo, “The Triple Bottom Line and Sustainable Economic Development Theory and Practice,” Economic Development Quarterly 2017, 31(1) 25-36.

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