The need for the double bottom line: environmental and economic sustainability


It is widely accepted that resource consumption globally, is too high and unsustainable. This unsustainability has significant impacts both on developing countries (which are usually the producers of the resources), as well as the developed countries (which often are the major consumers). It is important to note though that this general rule of thumb does not always hold and indeed is changing with changing lifestyles and consumption patterns in countries such as India. For example, it is anticipated that by 2040, some 65% of global energy will be consumed by developing countries. In other words, in less than 50 years, more than half of the energy consumed globally, will be in emerging markets.

There are projections that by 2035, some 40% of the world’s population will live in water scarce regions. Indeed, the approximately £83bn industrial water services market is expected to increase at an annual rate of 5%. Crucially, however, approximately 75% of this market is used by argriculture, with 20% used by industries and only 5% by humans. This has led to assertitions for example, by Jean-Louis Chaussade, the CEO of the French utility giant, Suez, that in future there will be (even more) competition between people and argriculture for water. Thus there will be an increased reliance for example, on waste water recycling and desalination. 

It is vitally important therefore for (resource intensive) sectors and organisations to give consideration to and prepare for the issues outlined above. This approach should, however, take account of both environmental and economic sustainability. The so-called ‘double bottom line’ approach.

Already many sectors and organisations are doing so. For example, the Alliance for a Green Revoultion in Africa, a farmer-led and partnership driven alliance advocates for more irrigation (95% of the farm land in Africa is rain-fed), more efficient supply chains, and more effective policy development and implementation.

At the company level, Statoil is building floating wind farms off the coast of Scotland. One Water invests some of its profits into water projects around the world. It has distributed £15m since it started operations in 2005. Incidentally, the name ‘One Water’ was choosen, because according to the owner Duncan Goose “you can’t change a billion people’s lives, but if you can change one, that is a definition of success”. Union Hand Roasted Coffee, which won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise has focused on sustainable sourcing of its product, as well as the empowering of farmers.

Without doubt there is a need for a more sustainable approach in the way in which resources are consumed. At the same time, this should be done in a manner that is also economically viable and sustainable. While there are already some sectors and organisations that have embeded the concepts, in the face of increasing pressures on resources, there is a need for more to be done.

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