Triple Bottom Line

It’s official: things are hotting up. With ‘global warming’ the new words on everyone’s lips it is time to focus on how you can make a difference, both at home and in the practice. Given the rate at which humans are depleting natural resources, discussions on the concept of sustainability and sustainable development are necessary within all public forums. After all, we can’t keep gorging resources at this rate and not expect to be left with the pantry bare.

Sustainable development involves the merging of financial, social and environmental policies and ideologies. This will ensure longevity of our resources and have positive economic elements. Many organisations have demonstrated that environmental policies make good business. It has been noted that such varied industries as electronics, paper and pulp, paint/coatings and printing have reported lower running costs and higher product quality as a result of implementing procedures and new techniques to minimise waste and pollution. Economic benefit, however, is not limited to industry. Service organisations, despite having a smaller ecological footprint, can still minimise their effect on the environment and make it pay off.

Drawing this triple bottom line (environment/ financial/ social) in your practice may involve: installing rain and/or grey water tank, using recycled and/or recyclable products, using low phosphate cleaning products and so on.

When taking into account computers and other pieces of information technology within the practice you can also apply the concept of triple bottom line to identify what your practice may be able to do.


Utilising computers to move towards a more paperless system will reduce costs to the practice, not only in terms of paper, printing, mailing and storage, but also time effectiveness. With adequately trained staff, information is more easily retrieved and communicated resulting in added time for other activities (e.g. preventive care, patient education). Using remote accessible servers when attending at other locations will also reduce paper use, centralise data and improve time efficiency.

Social Capital

Effectively using computers within the practice may result in less error (e.g. prescribing), faster service – at reception and in the consultation – and greater customer satisfaction.

Not trawling through piles of notes and files may also build team morale. Improved time efficiency may also enable other activities to improve patient health.


Paper reduction is the most apparent benefit of computer use, however the savvy practice may also want to take into account the life cycle assessment of the IT hardware used. This consideration is made before purchasing a computer, printer, fax or other piece of equipment.

Life cycle assessment looks at what consumables the item uses during its working life, what components it is constructed of and how these would be disposed of or recycled in an ecologically friendly way. Some companies (such as Xerox) have specific life cycle assessment policies whereby almost all parts are reclaimed by the company and reused at the end of a product’s useful life.

Additions to a practice policy that outline green power choice, shutting down all computers each night, refilling inkjet cartridges, disposing of monitors via local council to minimise lead contaminants and reusing single sided, non-confidential paper are other ways to draw a triple bottom line under your computer use.

The answer to how we could achieve some kind of ‘sustainable development’ is still a contentious issue, which provokes a range of responses. Yet whilst the mechanics are open to debate, the underlying principles are quite clear. In some way we must grow the economy in an environmentally and socially responsible way in order to develop a workable relationship with the surrounds in which we live.


Should you wish to know any more details you can contact Jane London at the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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