I am a project manager with Arup’s...
It’s time to stop talking about sustainability.
Sustainability as a word has come to embody everything from reducing carbon emissions to increasing profit. It is a word that has become amorphous and increasingly meaningless through overuse and misapplication.
It is a verb, a noun and an adjective. It is an aspirational lifestyle and quasi-religion. It is an unwelcome cost and an administrative burden. It is also a principle.
As the ideas it embodies have increased, the references to the term have multiplied, so that now it encompasses everything from urban drainage systems to improving education. As a result, no one seems to be sure exactly what it means or what it includes.
And that is why I think it’s time to get specific with what we mean whenever we mention the s-word.
In today’s business world, the principle of sustainability should be synonymous with the best design and good business practice – with ensuring the long-term economic, environmental and social success of an organisation, its products and services.
But having a single, separate word that can be applied to everything perpetuates an inaccurate notion that sustainability is something that can be finished – a box that can be ticked – as opposed to an approach that requires on-going review and effort.
There is also a problem with perception and context. An out-of-town supermarket can be considered sustainable by some measures, but by others it would represent many things about society that are unsustainable.
Ironically, as the word sustainability continues to grow in use, and the important concepts it covers multiply, its perceived value and reputation diminish.
Worse still is the corrosive effect that the misuse and misrepresentation of this vital principle has allowed to creep into its usage. And all because the s-word word is so vague.
Being more specific when we use the s-word is key to re-engaging people put off by the term and restoring its credibility and gravity. Or perhaps we should stop using the word sustainability altogether?
I believe that there are much greater gains to be achieved if we focus on expressing specific, identifiable targets in unambiguous language. The trouble is, much as I hate the s-word, I struggle to think of an ideal alternative.
How do you react to the s-word?