Everyone knows the “bottom line” (it’s profit). Fewer people know the “double bottom line”, which measures the company’s or endeavor’s profit and the positive social impact. There is even an inspiring venture capital firm, DBL Partners, dedicated to investing in companies that make money and benefit society. But I had not heard of the “triple bottom line” until I read Gary Kleppel’s book The Emergent Agriculture.
The triple bottom line is about profit, positive social impact (for Kleppel this is maintaining the natural farm ecosystem), and “treat[ing] my livestock ethically and with respect” (2014, 30). Why is the ethical treatment of animals so important in maintaining the ecosystem? Kleppel explains that there are “three fundamental elements of durable societies. They are: environmental stewardship, economic viability, and ethical behavior” (2014, 29). The triple bottom line: sustainability.
Sustainability means that the techniques used to farm meet our needs, but do not hurt the ability of future farmers to meet future consumers’ needs. Sustainable farming is not only organic, but is also ethical and profitable (to a small degree at least – you don’t go into local farming for the money). It fits the bill of the triple bottom line.
Unfortunately, the current farming system favors industrial farms that are not sustainable – that in fact do hurt our ability to provide enough food for future generations. Industrial farms with chemical fertilizers and genetically-modified crops reduce farms’ biodiversity by wearing out the soil (killing all the bacteria, fungi, etc… that make up the ecosystem) and decreasing a crop’s genetic code to one that is susceptible to diseases instead of diverse. If a disease comes to a farm with diverse genes, it will harm some, but some will live. However, if a disease comes to a farm with plants with one genetic code, it will destroy that plant entirely. “Biodiversity is a buffer against… disaster…. diversity creates stability” (Kleppel, 2014, 24).