Time to stand up for the S-word.
Most people I talk to still don’t know what this word means. I have to say, “Like green. But bigger. Everything a company or community does to stop messing up the planet.”
That generally makes the light bulb go on. In my experience, there is still a pretty low awareness of Sustainability as a profitable business approach.
So we know there’s a gap in understanding. That’s why there is real, honest debate about the S-Word in the corporate and environmental communities.
Like this: Joel Makower’s Why Sustainability Execs Should Shun the S-Word
And this: Matt Polsky’s Do We Still Need the S-Word?
And even the “let’s come up with something better”: Kathrin Winkler’s An idea for 2013: Crowdsourcing Sustainability
For myself, I land on the S-word side. Sustainability is a perfectly good word.
Imperfect, perhaps, in explaining the full spectrum of doing right the right things for people, profits and the planet. But generally positive and moving in the right direction.
Which is why it makes me nuts when a political group grabs hold and twists it into something else.
Get this. The major of Provo, Utah, John Curtis, has acquiesced to Agenda 21 conspiracy theorists’ concerns and said he won’t use the S-word anymore.
(KUTV) Tonight the mayor of a Utah County city is editing his words after accusations that Provo might be under the control of a sinister plan by the United Nations to take over the world.
Mayor John Curtis wrote a blog, mostly tongue in cheek, saying he will no longer use the word “sustainable” when talking about the city’s budget
When Curtis says sustainable budget he says it means not spending more money than the city has. But there is a world out there, lead primarily by glen beck who says sustainability is just a code word for a United Nations environmental scheme to take over the world by eliminating property rights. The program is known as Agenda 21.
Curtis was perplexed by accusations of Agenda 21 agents infiltrating Provo and he says many residents have told the mayor to watch his back.
Curtis began researching Agenda 21 and he stumbled upon a list of 100 words to watch for to see if your city council is under UN control and at the top of the list is sustainability. The list contains many other words city governments use all the time.
Curtis says Provo leaders are only influenced by Provo voters but sometimes he says getting some people to believe him isn’t always sustainable.
“The moment you tell them you don’t have to worry about Agenda 21,” Curtis says, “they worry about agenda 21.”
Mayor Curtis seems to have his sense of humor intact and his priorities straight. In essence, he’s saying: Fine. You don’t like me using a certain word because for you it has connections to a conspiracy theory? Then I won’t use it. Problem solved. Now on to the People’s Business.
He says as much on his blog.
Merriam-Websterdefines sustainability as “using a resource so that the resource is not depleted.” For three years we have been using the word sustainable in reference to our budget. The intent is that we want a budget that is based on principles that endure. In other words, if our budget is sustainable we are not spending more than our revenue. I know what your thinking – government never worries about how it spends its money. Right?I’ve sadly learned coming into elected office that too often elected officials spend money they don’t have. It’s the easy thing to do to kick the can down the road and let the next group of elected officials deal with problems. One of the aspects I admire most about our City Council members is that they get it. They are willing to make the hard decisions today to protect the fiscal future of our City.None of that has changed but I’ve come to the conclusion that we need to have a better name. I could live with the fact that some thought of the green movement when they heard us use the term “sustainability” but now something called Agenda 21 is convincing people that the word is evil and that anyone who uses it is working with the United Nations to overthrow civilization as we know it! (cue the Darth Vader music) If this is the case, they’re really good because no UN official has EVER contacted me – very stealth!So if you hear I’m in league with the United Nations to destroy Provo because I use the term “sustainability” you’ll likely first scratch your head and then understand why I think I need to find a better word to describe our efforts.
Mayor Curtis is quite rightly (in my book) using Sustainable to mean governing sensibly for the City’s fiscal future.
So the problem here isn’t with the word. The problem is with the people who are twisting it.
I suspect that Mayor Curtis is doing a bit of face-saving here. I admire and respect Mayor Curtis’ attempt to thread the needle. If it makes people happy that he won’t use “that word,” and it means he can get on with running the city, that seems fair enough.
But when we appease bullies, they keep pushing. Don’t be surprised if they come back and tell you there’s another word you can’t use. I’m not worried at all about Mayor Curtis. He seems more than up for the challenge.