Debating Three Different Areas of Sustainability: the Environmental, Social and Economic Dimensions of the Triple Bottom Line

Samuel Ethan - Oakland Community College
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In this activity, students will choose a topic relating to the triple bottom line, which has to do with environmental, social and economic issues.

The students as a whole will choose a topic of debate having to do with the triple bottom line of sustainability: healthier ecosystems, social systems and economies. The class then splits up into two groups. The purpose of this activity is for the students to then have a group debate, one side for a topic and one side against the topic. Each group will try to sway the opposing side to their point of view. If one side does not win the debate, then the students will have to come to a compromise and find a solution acceptable to both sides. After the acceptable solution is identified, students should write a letter to the mayor, or a governmental figure of their choice on how they came to an agreement and how this could be achieved by our government today.

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Learning Goals

This activity benefits and relates to many different fields and has the potential to work its way into almost every subject. The benefits of this activity are to help student with public speaking, research of a topic, social studies, writing, critical thinking, group communication, and whole group compromise and teamwork. This assignment also helps make the students become aware of environmental, social and economical issues, i.e. the triple bottom line.

Prepares students to build effective coalitions
Engages students in civil discourse/ communications that lead to more effective decisions
Catalyzes collective actions

For advanced students, the assignment should encourage self-reflection and personal development of their voice for solving societal challenges, promoting creative visioning around sustainable futures

Context for Use

This activity could be used in any social science, natural science, business, or humanities course, since each academic area has unique and important contributions to make to a sustainable future.

Description and Teaching Materials

The videos below will going over what the triple bottom line is and how it can be used in todays world.
  1. triple bottom line - (approx. 60 minutes)
  2. what is sustainability - (6 minutes)
  3. the story of stuff - (2.5 minutes - the complete story is 20 minutes and can catalyze lively conversation about whether the video is biased or not) This video is part of a series having to do with creating a sustainable future

See more videos down below

Teaching Notes and Tips

Each student should have to give a short speech at some point during the debate. This assignment is meant to help with teamwork and speaking skills. For this assignment, students should choose the group topic of debate. It is meant to be an opened ended assignment to give students a chance to learn about something they are interested in, motivating self directed learning and teaching the skills of discourse, deliberation and conflict resolution.


How the assignment breaks down.
individual student research - 10 points
- student will research what the triple bottom line is, and then submit an idea for class room debate

Individual Research/rough draft - 10 points
- students should show research of their side of the topic include sites they got information from. They should also include a rough draft of the speech they are going to use.

Group speech - 10 points
- student will all pair up as a group, and share idea in order to make their argument make sense and flow. they should decide the order students will speak.

Students speaking - 20 points
- students should get up in front of the whole class room to share their point of view and the speech they wrote.

Student review - 5 points
- students will write a view of the people they watched speaking, with a simple response on how powerful or how persuasive the student's speech was and why.

Student conflict resolution - 15 points
- students as a whole will have to work out a solution to their problem and how they made a solution that was fair to both groups.

Student letters - 25 points
- students will write a letter to a relevant elected official on how they created a fair solution for both groups. They will also have to include what the triple bottom line is and how government today should take that into account.

References and Resources

Links that will help explain the triple bottom line (broken link)