Previous post:

Next post:

Let’s ban the word ‘sustainability’ for 2008

by mel starrs on January 7, 2008

in Fun

Sustainability (the word) is suffering from chronic overuse. I propose we stop using the word sustainability and instead actually say what we mean. I’m by no means the first person to suggest this. James Evison, aka The Foreman at Contract Journal said the same thing last month.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not advocating cynicism or denial here, I’m saying that the word has ceased to be meaningful.

A quick search through my Google Reader feeds gives a search result of thousands of hits for the word.  Narrowing the search down to ‘definition sustainability’ yields 51 hits.  Clearly, no-one can hold 51 different models in their head at one time, so ‘sustainability’ has become a kind of shorthand for multitudinous ideas, theories and beliefs.

I’m proposing using instead ‘legacy’ and ‘dynasty’ i.e.: the concept that what we do today has an impact on the future.  Legacy covers this definition, but leaves the future open to both optimistic and pessimistic outcomes.  Dynasty is a stronger concept, based on the idea of making sure that the generation you hand over to is better off than you are.

This is only one of the myriad of types of definition that ‘sustainability’ has become shorthand for.  I’ll touch on others in the future, but in the meantime, if you are talking about issues to do with what state we leave the world in for the next generation, try using legacy – not sustainability.

*I must give credit to Scott Berkun and his post banning the word innovation (which I also agree with) which galvanised some of my recent thoughts on sustainability

  • http://www.fairsnape.wordpress.com martin

    Hi Mel – good and timely post. I am in agreement and the term legacy seems a good alt. I am concerned that sustainability has been railroaded into meaning carbon management – reduce, zero, offset (gasp!) etc etc – we have forgotten the other elements of the triple bottom line – ie the wide economic, environmental and social impacts.
    On legacy – wasn’t that an Olympic vision – long forgotten in the rush to build, build, build ? It is also bit of a throw away term in the world of regeneration.
    On the right tracks though !
    Martin

  • http://www.fairsnape.wordpress.com martin

    Hi Mel – good and timely post. I am in agreement and the term legacy seems a good alt. I am concerned that sustainability has been railroaded into meaning carbon management – reduce, zero, offset (gasp!) etc etc – we have forgotten the other elements of the triple bottom line – ie the wide economic, environmental and social impacts.
    On legacy – wasn’t that an Olympic vision – long forgotten in the rush to build, build, build ? It is also bit of a throw away term in the world of regeneration.
    On the right tracks though !
    Martin

  • http://www.zerochampion.com Phil Clark

    Mel,
    Bugger, does that mean I have to change the name of my website and my new job position?
    Has the horse bolted on this one? I see by far the biggest category on the right column is sustainability.
    I’m beginning to get irritated by the word myself, not least because it’s so bloody long. I’m afriad I think we’re stuck with it though as it has now gained almost universal recognition.

  • http://www.zerochampion.com Phil Clark

    Mel,
    Bugger, does that mean I have to change the name of my website and my new job position?
    Has the horse bolted on this one? I see by far the biggest category on the right column is sustainability.
    I’m beginning to get irritated by the word myself, not least because it’s so bloody long. I’m afriad I think we’re stuck with it though as it has now gained almost universal recognition.

  • http://www.mygreenelement.com Stefan

    We like your site and have added it to our blog roll. Our blog, My Green Element (www.mygreenelement.com) covers green business and marketing trends. I was hoping we could be added to your blog roll. Also, if you are interested in writing a guest post (trends for 08 for example), please let me know.
    Peace,
    Stefan

  • http://www.mygreenelement.com Stefan

    We like your site and have added it to our blog roll. Our blog, My Green Element (www.mygreenelement.com) covers green business and marketing trends. I was hoping we could be added to your blog roll. Also, if you are interested in writing a guest post (trends for 08 for example), please let me know.
    Peace,
    Stefan

  • http://www.melstarrs.com mel starrs

    Phil – It still has it’s uses as an overall TOPIC for example, but I agree with Martin – all too often people say ‘sustainability’ when what they really mean is ‘carbon’ or ‘legacy’ or ‘renewables – which all fall under the topic, but are sub-categories. At the risk of getting stuck in a war of semantics, I’m suggesting we are a little less liberal with the word. More to come on that topic, I’m sure…

  • http://www.melstarrs.com mel starrs

    Phil – It still has it’s uses as an overall TOPIC for example, but I agree with Martin – all too often people say ‘sustainability’ when what they really mean is ‘carbon’ or ‘legacy’ or ‘renewables – which all fall under the topic, but are sub-categories. At the risk of getting stuck in a war of semantics, I’m suggesting we are a little less liberal with the word. More to come on that topic, I’m sure…

  • Andrew Kinsey

    We’ve banned the word initiative too. So Sustainability Initiative is right out!

  • Andrew Kinsey

    We’ve banned the word initiative too. So Sustainability Initiative is right out!