Environment, Development and Sustainability

, Volume 12, Issue 5, pp 597–610 | Cite as

The triple-bottom-line: framing of trade-offs in sustainability planning practice

  • Makena Coffman
  • Karen Umemoto
Original Paper


Sustainability principles are at the forefront of regional planning. In Hawaii, the movement toward “sustainability” gave way to revisiting the State Plan. This paper uses a case study of the Hawaii 2050 Sustainability Plan (Hawaii 2050) to illustrate how adopting popular notions of sustainability, without critical examination of how the respective policy frames diverge or interrelate, can lead to “tautological traps.” In the case of Hawaii 2050, the “triple-bottom-line” (embedded within sustainable development) became the dominant sustainability frame during the solicitation of public input and was thus used to guide the planning discourse. The application of triple-bottom-line concepts at the level of policy and planning led to a process that polarized economic and environmental interests. While the goals of sustainable development and the use of triple-bottom-line concepts are useful for planners, we argue that they should be applied within the parameters of ecological sustainability in a US regional context, lest resulting plans continue to allow the momentum of development to override ecological concerns.


Regional sustainability planning Triple-bottom-line Framing Trade-offs 



We would like to thank the reviewers for their insightful and helpful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Urban & Regional PlanningUniversity of Hawaii at ManoaHonoluluUSA

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