Sustainability is a word that has multiple definitions. In my opinion it’s actually a misnomer for the intention behind the word.
To sustain something is to maintain it at its current position, situation or physical state.
Let’s face it.. when we talk about sustainability in terms of planet, depletion of natural resources, the proliferation of plastic, etc., what we actually mean is improvement. It is simply not appropriate to accept that if we keep things as they are right now then we have succeeded in our intentions.
Why would we wish to sustain vast islands of plastic in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Why would we want to sustain the poor quality of air in most major cities around the world. Why would we sustain the current level of apathy in the majority of businesses towards how they inefficiently consume resources with just a passing nod to their corporate social responsibility statements.
I believe we are kidding ourselves with the terminology we use to describe what is probably the most significant challenge ever faced by humanity.
Sustainability? That simply refuels the “It’s nothing to do with me” and “What difference can I make?”
I think something like ‘Improvability’ may be a better word to help awaken the latent desire to be involved, inside most people.
A reason behind my opinion is in attempting to inspire changes in behaviour from deeply rooted habits and paradigms, we need to shift to a positive and incrementally beneficial outcome. So to move to a neutral situation, using a word like ‘sustain’, is hardly likely to inspire each generation to really commit and look beyond their current horizon.
A lovely example of inspiring change, by The Vegan Society, is their use of the phrase ‘Try Vegan’, rather than their earlier attempts with ‘Go Vegan’, which they now understand to be a step too far in the minds of many. To me this is a great example because it accepts that behavioural change is a hard thing to inspire. Little steps are what it takes and as we know, a long journey begins with the first step. But with the concept of sustainability, why would anyone be inspired to take a step towards neutrality. How about a first step towards an improvement?
I was inspired by the Wildlife Trusts‘ CEO who said, “Nature isn’t the icing on the cake, it IS the cake”. Wrap a harsh realisation like this with the practical and positive steps an individual can take themselves to contribute, and you have an opportunity to make a difference and a change for the better.
This takes courage, not rebellion. A rebellion may satisfy the anger and fight in a few, but to inspire the masses it’s more about education, information and inspiration. And part of this is the concept of advocacy. The first steps of engagement with the concept of Improvability could be as tiny as a ‘share’ in social media. You would be amazed at the power of advocacy and the impact it can have in communities and networks. This is how improvements can be made on the journey to a better world for everyone on the planet, today and in the future.