Online Exclusive: Economic and Development Administration awards grant to PSU

The U.S. Department of Economic and Development Administration (EDA) has awarded a $495,000 grant to Portland State for triple bottom line development.

The U.S. Department of Economic and Development Administration (EDA) has awarded a $495,000 grant to Portland State for triple bottom line development. This refers to the idea that when any kind of development project is proposed, its social, environmental and economic aspects must be equally taken into account, according to Janet Hammer, the program director of the Social Equity Opportunity Forum.

Developers usually have a good sense of the economic side of decisions through the availability of cost-benefit analysis, said Vivek Shandas, an assistant professor in PSU’s College of Urban and Public Affairs. However, the social and environmental aspects of the project are usually unknown or simply left out of the equation.

“The triple bottom line is trying to take into account the social and environmental—in addition to the economic—implications of a decision,” Shandas said.

For instance, if someone designed an area with heavy pedestrian traffic, like the Park Blocks, the developer would need to take into account how the changing number of trees will affect the area, including its air quality and aesthetic value, Shandas said.

Much of how the grant is going to deal with these problems is based on the ideas of metrics, or variables.

“Metrics are standards that we use as a basis for measuring something,” said Darrell Brown, a professor in the School of Business Administration.

For instance, a metric could be the amount of vegetation, the quality of life of the people walking around and living in the newly developed area and other factors affecting the local community and the environment.

According to Shandas, the EDA wants to create a tool that developers, city council members, mayors and other officials can use to look at all the aspects of a project. The goal is to a have an online tool that these people can use to analyze a collection of data that identifies how certain decisions will impact social and environmental metrics. 

The grant offered by the EDA is a competitive one-time only, one-year grant, Hammer said. This past summer, Hammer, Shandas, Brown and others worked with their advisory board to compete for the grant.

“This is a watershed moment,” Hammer said. “It represents a pretty significant shift in thinking on the part of the EDA to look at the full impacts of investment.”

Hammer said that the traditional thought process of development is: “Let’s put in this new factory that quickly creates 100 new jobs.”

She said that the factory could pollute a nearby river and end up creating a net loss for the community. However, with this grant, developers will be able to start taking in the big picture.

“[The grant] builds on work that we’ve been doing here at the university,” Hammer said.

According to its website, the Social Equity Opportunity Forum has looked at 14 cases in the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada and Australia to see how triple bottom line development is being implemented around the world.