Quadruple bottom line

​​​​​We can define the quadruple bottom line as a framework to evaluate performance across 4 pillars: cultural, economic, environmental and social. It is an extension of the triple bottom line accounting framework, which provided a balance of people, planet and profit needs, to encompass cultural needs.

This approach has its origins in corporate reporting, encouraging a move away from company performance being judged on the single financial bottom line towards a more holistic view. Use has been extended to the planning sphere, where triple and quadruple bottom line principles are reflected in the approaches taken throughout Australia and New Zealand.


New Zealand’s Local Government Act 2002 (Section 14) requires a sustainable development approach that takes into account:

‘the social, economic, and cultural interests of people and communities’.

Australia’s National Water Quality Management Strategy (DELWP 2015) aims:

'to achieve sustainable use of the nation's water resources by protecting and enhancing their quality while maintaining economic and social development.’

The State Environment Protection Policy (Waters of Victoria) was guided by the:

‘Principle of integration of economic, social and environmental considerations.’

The use and application of the principles of quadruple bottom line has been used as a formal definition of the concept of ecological sustainability.

The term 'balance' relates to the process of determining final management strategies. The final decision — and the appropriate weightings to apply to each of the 4 pillars of quadruple bottom line — is partly a sociopolitical one.

Our discussion relates to how objective assessments of quadruple bottom line support the decision-making process in the context of the Water Quality Management Framework.

Application of quadruple bottom line in the framework

Application of quadruple bottom line principles occurs primarily at Step 2 of the Water Quality Management Framework (setting community values and management goals), and at Steps 8 and 9 where an iterative process is used to agree on appropriate management strategies to achieve the water quality objectives and management goals, and hence protect the community values.

At Step 2, community values and management goals established should cover cultural, ecological, economic and social values.

​When assessing alternative management strategies at Steps 8 and 9, you will consider the:

  • cultural impacts (e.g. is the proposed management strategy culturally appropriate?)
  • ecological improvements
  • economic implications (e.g. how affordable is the overall cost of implementation?)
  • social implications (e.g. what impacts will the alternative management strategies have on all sectors?).

Balancing the 4 sometimes competing pillars of the quadruple bottom line cannot be easily quantified. It generally comes about through a more elusive consultation process, with support where possible from multiple objective decision support tools.

Accountability and openness are the keys. This will require robust and honest stakeholder involvement.

Broad principles, case studies and discussion papers on the incorporation of indigenous cultural and spiritual values into the Water Quality Management Framework can be found in the National Water Quality Management Strategy Charter.

See also:


DELWP 2015, State Environment Protection Policy (Waters) Review: Discussion Paper, The State of Victoria Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Port Melbourne.