I’ve been thinking a lot about the words we use to describe our movement -sustainable, organic, green- all those buzzwords that we pass around as if each were a key to membership in the elite club of environmentalists. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the word sustainable, mostly because it has come up in ways that have nothing to do with the environment.
I think we (I know that I do this, I’m hoping I’m not alone!) often forget what sustainable actually means. According to Webster, sustainable means ‘able to be maintained or kept going.’ The word has become so synonymous with environmentalism that I forget that it is a much broader term.
For example, I signed up to attend a call on sustainable business practices. At first, I assumed that the call would be about making business practices more eco-friendly. It wasn’t. It was about how to keep a business or organization going for months/years, however long it was needed.
This is such a better use of the term than they way I often hear it. Usually, it’s used in some phrase like ‘We offer sustainable solutions’ to whatever your need is. Meaning: we offer something that seems like it could be green and earth-friendly so you environmentalists will like it.
Or it’s used to describe the future, as in ‘I believe in a sustainable future.’ What does that mean? It’s such a blanket statement that doesn’t seem to hold weight (another definition of sustainable is something that can hold weight from below. Now my pun makes sense). I get that it’s supposed to mean that I believe in a future that keeps going, that exists, but what does that look like? More importantly, take a stand on how we should get there. To me, that’s like saying that you believe in clean water. Great, me too. In fact, I think most people would believe in that. The question and debate comes in in discussing how to clean up our water (mostly, this seems to break down into a debate about who caused it and who’s responsible for it, which doesn’t seem to get us anywhere).
Where have you heard the sustainable buzzword? How would you like to hear it?