Thought Leadership


Has sustainability been trivialized?

November 28, 2012
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Source: Discussion on LinkedIn Sustainability Professionals Group

Question for group: There is a growing consensus that the word “sustainability” is becoming a hindrance for the green economy, but what should it be replaced with?

I am sure the survey data backs up this response but exactly the same happened with Quality. Everyone followed the Toyota Model and we experienced BS5750, ISO 9000 etc. Over time the value of belonging to the club was eroded by spin and a watering down of the intensity of the standard. Sustainability isn't easy - that is the point. Whenever  you believe you can change the word for good, over time, suffer exactly the same apathy as the low hanging fruit is harvested. Surely these same highly experienced executives can find a way of innovating because one thing is clear - there is massive room for improvement. Richard Gould

Sustainability (sustainable) can only be used in the context of culture, as in many discrete actions/decisions. I've gone back to just using the term "green," because there are many variations and shades of green...olive green, charteuse, etc. If we're going to be vague, may as well use a more evocative term even though it's just as vague. Anthony Stoppiello

• It has been my observation that when  “Management” fails to show its "Commitment," and where it only wanted a membership of particular club (flavour of the season),  sustainability professionals and the rest of the workforce detests the system.  Everyone’s work load has gone up, inexplicably. They never are able to put their heart into understanding these concepts and their benefits.

Wherever “Management”  understood these concepts and their benefits themselves and granted adequate budgets for 'Training, Orientation & additional Staff or Talent,” (where required) - and demonstrated clearly their "Commitment" -- through regular participation, people showed their appreciation through higher knowledge, motivation and worked for greater results since, they were able to put their heart to understand these concepts and their benefits. M. Prabhakar Rao

• I don’t accept this thesis. The terms "sustainable," "sustainability" and "sustainable development" properly describe the end state and approach that needs to be taken so that future generations will have the same opportunities as we have to achieve a good quality of life. ASCE, the World Bank, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and other significant groups use these terms all the time.

The problem is that these terms have been trivialized by people and groups who have a fondness for attaching the "sustainable" descriptor to highways, vacation destinations and grocery bags.

Actually, I have more of a problem with the term "green economy." Bill Wallace

• That's a profound question. I believe the underlying psychology has to do with the conflict between freedom and responsibility. Sustainability involves limitations on freedom, economic and otherwise. There is a natural resistance to this in individuals and societies. This resistance is often directed towards sustainability professionals who, in turn, often internalize this attitude, transforming it into a self-directed hostility. I do not believe a different terminology would alter the underlying conflict. Five cents please! Adam Cherson

• I don't hate it (the word “sustainability), but can appreciate the finding. Why? Because we are still going in the other direction, and at an accelerated pace. Because for the thousands completing viable sustainability education, there are no jobs or careers in this area. So we are left for just talking and advocating, but with little opportunity to apply it. There are no jobs because 99% of enterprises still only play lip-service to wanting to be greener or green-wash their images at very best. The very few that do, demand 5-10 years of practical experience or very technical driven requirements. Jeremy Werner

• I believe that the overuse of the term is a good sign. It allows the concept to become a social meme, shifting consciousness on the global stage. It also encourages people to dig a little deeper to understand the term, and therefore the multiple views of sustainability. As I believe that greenwashing is a good thing (see my post on that here: http://alderspruce.blogspot.com/2011/05/why-we-love-greenwashing.html), so I believe the so-called overuse of the term sustainability is a good thing - it requires more conscious meaning-making by people which leads to a shift in consciousness. As sustainability facilitators (is that what you are?), one of our most important jobs is to create healthy dialogues and allow people to discover their own meanings of sustainability. It is always my first step with clients, to help them define it for themselves and connect this definition to the definitions that might be different for other groups and societies. Eric Johnson

• As a professional working in “sustainable'” practices for more than 30 years I don't hate the word at all and I strongly promote it. However I make a very strong effort, regardless of my client base, to ensure that I maintain a strong standard and maybe that's what the problem is, is that far too many allow it to be 'greenwashed'.  We need to keep a backbone with respect to the practice and NOT allow government, big corps or anyone else for that matter to “decrease” the value of the word just to “get the sale.” Although some may not like my direct and black and white approach to the word/practice, I think there is more respect when you stick to your guns on true “sustainable” business practices than if you soften your approach to “make someone happy.” That person more or less needs the proverbial kick in the backside. Kathleen Cameron

• People who hate the word Sustainability and the action behind have to change their job and action field!!!

Sustainability is much more than Green Economy - it is a Balance of Economy, Ecology and Society. The global start was to create a Balance between Economy and Ecology. BUT the understanding of the triangle + the personal action got lost to many people who cannot explain what sustainability is and how to become sustainable. They act with helpful material like a checklist without real understanding and/or they are frustrated because the management do not understand the necessity or do not want to act in sustainable manner. Sandra Klinkenberg

• Our main problem is people are no longer satisfied with making a good product or service and making a living, a comfortable living. It is all about "how can I become a gazzilionaire NOW".

They somehow have been programmed to feel justified in this quest; that shipping jobs overseas and polluting other countries’ groundwater, air and streams and food is justifiable.

They have so much control over our government it is not funny, I'll give you an example, but this happens many times a year in every state.

My state Connecticut governor ran on a claim of "shared sacrifice". Then once in office he raised taxes on the common people and increased Corporate Welfare, we were already the highest taxed state in the nation.

He consolidated many state agencies so that corporations could control them easier; for instance he combined the Dept of Energy with the Dept of Environmental Protection. He also combined all Ethics and Watchdog agencies so his appointee could run them all.

Then he created what they call the First Five, the First 5 corporations that promise to move here or stay and add jobs get millions, hundreds of millions that you don't have to pay back if you stay.

In the contract for 2 large corporations it states that they currently have 3000+ employees and all they have to do to keep the money is still have 2000 employees by 2014. How is that adding jobs?? They are being paid to cut the workforce and have already posted 30% profits and nice bonuses.

In another brilliant move the governor is giving a hedge fund 115 million so they can move from Westport to Stamford, just a few miles with no gain in jobs.

He is now shocked that our state just posted a HUGE deficit that is growing daily and the unemployment rate is rising not dropping.

None of this at the state or national level is sustainable, that is what must be cut, not S/S, not the USPS, not Medicare. Corporate Welfare is our largest problem and must be cut so that the money can help establish new businesses that add jobs, not existing ones that ship them out while receiving help from US taxpayers. What a slap in the face. Gene Bartholomew CSBA

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