The Misuse & Abuse of the Word "Sustainable"
Lucas, our guru of consumer insight at Seventh Generation, just came back from the LOHAS conference in California. He reflected that wherever you go people have begun to misuse the word sustainable. That’s both good and bad news. It’s great that it’s in everyone’s mind, but unfortunately most people have so little idea of what the word actually means that they can be of little help in creating a more sustainable world.
One of the places that the word is most abused is in corporate responsibility reports. Almost with out exception the word crops up– if not on the cover then somewhere prominently inside. These reports generally discuss corporate efforts to do less damage to the world. This has little to do with sustainability.
Jonathan Porritt, the former Director of Friends of the Earth UK recently defined sustainable development as “a dynamic process which enables all people to realize their potential and to improve their quality of life in ways which simultaneously protect and enhance the Earth’s life-support systems’ and emphasizes the importance of social justice and equity in that it has to be made to work for all people.”
That’s one of the best and systemically focused definitions I’ve come across. What’s wonderful about it is that it includes social justice and equity for all people. Without that idea sustainability is simply not possible.