Tired of “Sustainability?”
The word ‘sustainability’ is tired and deserves to be retired from much of our vocabulary. It has about four hundred different definitions and is now applied to everything, so it is losing its punch as an important concept that speaks to essential life-style choices that will guarantee our future. Like the word ‘natural’ or ‘green’ it has become ubiquitous and co-opted by environmental ‘branding’ so as to become virtually meaningless in so many contexts.
The simplest definition of ‘sustainable’ to me is to give and take in ways that do not damage, exploit or deplete. It is a kind of balance that promotes ‘justice’ in relationships between people and with nature. Nevertheless, injustice can be sustained through domination or repression, like the regimes of dictators or the unchecked activities of consuming corporations – not forever, perhaps – but long enough to cause damage to life and to well-being, while putting future prospects at risk or out of reach.
What really makes life ‘sustainable’ is a positive attitude, even in the bleakest of times. It is optimism that causes people to not give up on creating a just life. Some of those who have that attitude use the terms ‘resilient’ or ‘transitional’ to characterize practices in communities that are progressing towards a lifestyle and economy that are vibrant and responsible. While ‘sustainable’ is a term that seems static and can be used to maintain the status quo, those other terms contain a life-energy that propels toward change and new approaches that promote vigor and adaptation to new needs and unpredictable realities. For this positive attitude, I prefer the term ‘thriving’ communities.
Built in the concept of ‘thriving’ is the unrepressed and purposeful force of nature - that same force that causes anything to multiply, grow and mature. As a psychological, social and economic attitude it is the manifestation of abundance instead of scarcity; optimism instead of pessimism; dynamism instead of complacency; progress instead of stagnation; stewardship instead of exploitation.These are the values ever-present in success, ever-present in creative endeavors, ever-present in healthy living organisms. When groups of people come together and demonstrate these values through their collaborative relationships, the result is a thriving, resilient community that is alive.
The visionaries of a better future are builders, not just sustainers. Theirs is a spirit undaunted by even the meanest challenge. Even when their efforts meet obstacles, and going forward seems excruciatingly slow and fraught with confrontation, there is still a joy and determination in their hearts. They are spiritually thriving, because their life force is directed towards the purposeful goal of co-creating a better, thriving world. The term ‘sustainable’ doesn’t begin to describe the creative, balanced and future-oriented culture that is being born and given life through their activities.