Under traditional methods of accounting it was not always cost effective to go green. Environmentally friendly technology and architecture is often more expensive than older technology and architecture. In 1981 Freer Spreckly published ‘Social Audit – A Management Tool for Co-operative Working’. In it he introduced the notion of the Triple Bottom Line. This was a paradigm shift that suddenly made going green a profitable activity.
Under the old system of accounting the bottom line consisted exclusively of income minus expenses. It was this model that decided whether an enterprise was successful. Under the Triple Bottom Line three indices decide the viability and profitability of an activity: they are ‘people, planet, profits’. With this breakthrough things such as green interior design suddenly made sense.
‘People’ refers to promoting design that makes the environment healthy for people. In terms of green interior design this means choosing flooring and window treatments that don’t allow dust mites to breed and cause allergic reactions. It also means avoiding paints, thinners, cleaning products, carpet backing, glues, furniture polish that contain harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde, acetone, chlorofluorocarbons and benzene that cause respiratory problems, cancer and reproductive problems. Under the Triple Bottom Line it makes sense to invest in bamboo flooring, zero VOC paint etc. as it saves hospital bills and keeps people healthy and productive.
‘Planet’ refers to what most people think of as environmentalism, namely promoting products and practices that stop pollution and resource depletion. Naturally, as we are part of the planet what is good for the environment is also good for us. We need clean water and clean air just as much as other fauna and flora. It makes good sense to use earth friendly detergents or soap nuts for laundry washing. Phosphates in normal washing detergents are causing huge floating algae blooms in rivers and seas that are suffocating marine life. Using vinegar, baking soda and lemon instead of strong acids and alkalies are less toxic for both people and the planet.
One of the greatest man-made problems besetting the planet is climate change caused by high carbon emission levels. These are caused by a variety of causes but especially by humans burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas to generate electricity. Products such as digital programmable thermostats, CFLs and LED lights that are approved by Energy Star help to improve energy efficiency and thus reduce carbon emissions.
The planet is also faced with crisis caused by resource depletion. Fresh water sources are being stretched. Already agriculture uses 66% of the world’s fresh water. Although humans need only 13 gallons of water a day the average home in the USA uses 260 gallons a day. Green interior uses low flow showers, faucet aerators and grey water recycling to conserve this most precious of resources.
Similarly, the world’s forests are being chopped down at an alarming rate. One way to stop this is to recycle and upcycle by using reclaimed hardwood flooring. Another method is to turn to renewable resources such as bamboo, coconut and water hyacinth for flooring, furniture and household products.
The notion of ‘profit’ remains in the Triple Bottom Line. Many things that are good for the environment are good for the finances. For example using a digital programmable thermostat can reduce heating and cooling bills in a home by 30% or $700 a year. Another example is compact fluorescent light bulbs – they last 8 times longer than standard incandescent light bulbs and use 75% less electricity. Changing just 5 light bulbs in the home to CFLs can save $100 a year. Also solar energy costs money to install but turns a profit over a few years. It also reduces carbon emission.
The same is the case for better home insulation or green roofs. They cost money initially but soon turn a profit in terms of savings on heating and cooling bills. What is good for the environment is often also good for the bank balance.
So it can be seen that people, planet and profits are inter-connected not mutually exclusive. Using the Triple Bottom Line, sustainable design and green interior design makes sense for our health, for the health of the planet and for our finances. Looking at accounting in this way is the only way to secure a future that is healthy and sustainable for our children and grand children.