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July 26, 2010


Ken Stokes

Maybe the term Donella Meadows used: sustainer


I believe that the problem with the word “sustainability” is that its grammatical definition does not match the interpretation or expectations that people have regarding the concept of sustainability.
Let’s first analyze the definition of the word sustainability and then we’ll analyze what I believe is the people’s understanding or expectations of the same word.
Sustainability comes from the word sustain, which means constantly capable of being in a certain level. This definition implies that something is “static” or “standing still”, in other words it means that we accept the current situation or status quo. That is the fundamental problem with this word. Embedded in human nature is the desire to understand, fix, improve and optimize things (going from simple tools, to complex natural cycles, passing through the economy, ecosystems, etc, etc). Using the word sustainability to represent people that are committed to improve the planet, people, and profit is not enough. It would be the equivalent of using the word homeostasis and accept the current situation.
Now, of-course by saying this I’m not helping you to answer the question "what do you call someone committed to sustainability?" On the contrary, I’m advocating for using a different word to define people that are devoted to improve the triple bottom line. The only “logic” and “easy” answer that I can think of is one of the answers that someone already posted in your blog “Triple bottom liners”. Well maybe because we are in the U.S. and you love acronyms “TBL’s” would be a better answer.


Chris Oestereich

I'll throw my hat in the ring with the term "Improvers." I like this because rather than looking to sustainability's end-point, it is an ambitious call to constantly look for ways to make things better. Do you want to provide the essential needs of the world's poor, or do you want to provide them opportunities for a better life? Do you want to sustain our ecosystems (i.e. avoid their collapse), or do you want to continually find ways to lessen our impact on them, thereby allowing them to flourish? Do we want a flat Triple Bottom Line, or do we want to point towards untold heights? Improvers will look to create the proverbial rising tide which carries all boats.

Frances Zolotar

I am submitting the word "environmentalist".

It's long, but it says it all, doesn't it??

F. Zolotar

How about: E-cologist ???

betty jo

I'd submit Sustainist. I'm sure someone already suggested this term. I'd disagree with an earlier comment regarding sustainability to mean status quo, since i think a never ending chain of change is required to keep 'things' status quo. Sustainability has become popular in its use along side environmental and has always conjured up an image of life style for me. Sustainability to me also means support -- whether that support be of the life style nature (economic, health, etc) or the eco-type (environmental, green, reduction and so on). I'm okay with the terms sustain, sustainability, sustainist. They already mean something to me that extends beyond just the environment.

Louise Rubacky

Golden Rule Futurists- plays off your apt description of sustainability, and redefines futurist in a non-wonky way.

Woody Raine

I suggest "Envisionary," though Googling indicates it may have other meanings already.

Sophie Constance

How about SEEC-er or SEEC -ist
The interconnection of S E E AND C is all part of holistic Sustainability.

As In Social
Cultural ( Including Governance)*

* Depending on which sector you are in.

From acronymns not words that are too simplistic or reductionist at least it's comprehensive. :)

Josh Stack

I'd consider one focused on "sustainability" to be well-intentioned but misguided.

The Brundtland Commission definition falls short as well.

Ken, posting above, put it well. The core meaning and word, "sustain", has been well-defined since at least Middle English.

It's something altogether novel we're seeking to define. And I agree, Joel, until we appreciate the true power of definitions, we will continue to collectively fall short.

Nancy Darcy Gallant

One thing that's a positive is the fact that "green" folks are realizing that it isn't enough to help the environment as the most basic tenet of the green movement. It's about people, too. After all, economic systems and the very real communities (flesh, blood, earth, plants, water), if you will, to which they are tied should be sustainable just as an ecosystem in nature is, lest it whither and die (a bit dramatic, but not untrue). Sustainability is a more all-encompassing term. I like it. It really is/should be about the triple-bottom-line these days in terms of conscious capitalism to lead the country to a brighter future for all stakeholders.

I've taken to using the terms people-friendly and earth-friendly to describe the different aspects of my social enterprise start-up, which, by the way, is designed to (ultimately) be financially self-sustaining rather than grant dependant. I could go on (even more!), but too much to do to make my vision a reality and too many other great replies for your readers to peruse. Really great post and love the comments as well.

Carpe Diem ~

Nancy Darcy Gallant
Social Entrepreneur
Found/Time Well Spent
An Eco-Arts & Creative Repurposing Community Enrichment Center
Twitter ~ @NancyTWS
Facebook ~ http://www.Facebook.com/TimeWellSpent

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