Don’t Complify Sustainability
Last week, I was revelling in the concept of simplication of sustainability – making the complex appear simple and accessible without losing anything critical. The antonym of simplicate is complify – to make things more complicated sounding than they really are. Well, this week I landed by chance on the phrase “endosymbiotic thrivability”.
I like what the coiners of that phrase are trying to get at – ‘endosymbiotic’ refers to a rather particular biological phenomenon of one organism developing inside another – used as an analogy for society evolving within the natural world to the benefit of both – and ‘thrivability’ is about looking beyond mere sustainability into a future where we do more than merely exist. Those are both worthy ideas that I already stand for.
And it’s a big BUT.
I’ve worked in sustainability for over 15 years and I had to google ‘endosymbiotic’. In fact, I first read it as ‘endoscopy’ which is something else entirely… What chance, then, does the person in the street trying to make ends meet, or the executive in a high pressure boardroom, or the politician trying to get re-elected have of getting their head around this concept quickly? Those are our target audiences!
And while I agree with presenting the future as thriving rather than some kind of hair-shirt, back-to-the-yurt movement, we’re just about getting some traction on the word ‘sustainability’ (which is a real word) without ripping it up and trying to sell a brand new one. Perfection is all too often often the enemy of success.
Setting aside the irony of using neologisms to knock neologisms, but we really do need to concentrate on simplicating rather than complifying sustainability – make it accessible, intuitive and attractive to people outside the sustainability field. Because, after all, it is those people in their multitudes who will deliver sustainability in practice, not the inner priesthood of practitioners.