Pioneering a New Approach to Economic Development

A core principle at Fourth Economy is that economic development works best when it works at the intersection of environmental, social, and economic issues—a concept referred to as sustainable or triple bottom line economic development. A recent article published in Economic Development Quarterly by one of our Fourth Economy Pioneers gives some background into this concept.

Janet Hammer of The Collaboratory, the lead author of this research, notes that while traditional economic development delivers programs, policies, or activities designed to create or retain jobs and wealth, sustainable economic development does so in ways that also contribute to environmental, social, and economic well-being over time. This triple bottom line approach recognizes that economic development both influences and is influenced by a spectrum of factors like quality of life, fiscal health, resource stewardship, and resilience.

The article’s insights into how this concept is applied in practice is based on a national survey of economic development practitioners, a literature review, and 18 case studies. Significantly, the research found that a majority of economic development professionals believe that economic, environmental, and social factors are important to consider, yet few do so when making economic development investments.

To address these barriers, Hammer offers the following recommendations:

  • Integrate sustainability principles into the core of academic and professional accreditation for economic developers, for example, adding sustainable economic development/ triple-bottom line concepts to the core competencies required to become a Certified Economic Developer and Accredited Economic Development Organization.
  • Use the TBL Tool created with funding by the US EDA to design for, assess, and communicate alignment of economic development investment with goals for economic vitality, natural resource stewardship, and community wellbeing.
  • Provide clear expectations and rewards for triple-bottom line approaches regarding incentives. Pittsburgh’s p4 Performance Measures, which Fourth Economy helped design, are a good example.
  • Extend and integrate the practitioner surveys regularly administered by IEDC and the International City County Management Association to allow for better understanding regarding this important issue.

Do you have a good example of taking a triple-bottom line approach to economic development? We’d love to hear from you! Want to learn more? Contact Janet!