When I recently interviewed Carol Sanford, author of “The Responsible Business” and “The Responsible Entrepreneur,” I was a little taken aback when she stated flatly that “I want the word ’sustainability’ to go away.”
Her contention is that “it limits what people think they can take on,” which I’m not sure I agree with.
I do have sympathy with those who deride it as a buzzword, but I’m heading the opposite way. Instead of hoping the word will go away, I’m trying to restore its full meaning, before it became a stand-in for green technology or corporate PR obligation.
Far from being empty, “sustainability" — the ability to sustain — deserves to be a top-shelf concern of every life on the planet, and it doesn’t take much to see why. If you list all the people, groups, nations, or species that haven't enjoyed sustainability, you’ll quickly realize that their commonality is that they’re no longer around.
The huge mistake embodied in the buzzwordification of “sustainability” is to pigeonhole it as a global concern, although it certainly is that, too.
Each of us has a sustainability story. Each one of us makes many, if not most, of our choices without considering whether it will move us toward, or away from, our ability to sustain ourselves. Every time another individual — that’s you, that’s me — places a greater emphasis on our own sustainability, one effect will be to move the planet in that direction too, even if the progress is, in itself, too small to perceive.
It’s not possible to force other individuals to work toward increasing their abilities to sustain themselves, but there is something each of us can do to nudge the world in that direction: Change ourselves. Simply by being alive, each of us adds to the sum of human experience.
It may be that if enough of us make our own lives more sustainable, the power of example will influence others. Are we not all role models, whether we’re trying to be?
But even if no one follows, we will still reap the benefits of having sustained ourselves.