Has ‘sustainability’ been devalued? No, just popularised!
I often see it said in sustainability/corporate social responsibility circles that the terms ‘sustainability’ and ‘CSR’ have become diluted and devalued through use/misuse until they are almost meaningless. While I agree that there is some truth in this – particularly with the ambiguous word ‘sustainability’ – I can’t help thinking that too many practitioners and ‘thought leaders’ resent the world catching up with them and, instead of rejoicing, feel they have to be derogatory. It’s like those music fans who only like bands before they are famous and resent the popularity of their once-obscure favourites when they hit the big time.
In fact there is a counter-argument – that the bar is rising on sustainability, not falling. A decade ago, CSR meant sponsoring the local kids’ football team, not the big chewy issues it covers like wage differentials, tax avoidance and working conditions in the supply chain today. A decade ago, retailers only put their own fossil fuel and electricity use in their carbon footprints. Today they are driving sustainability down through their supply chains (WalMart) or building circular supply chains (Marks & Spencer). In the UK, household recycling used to be a minority pursuit, now it has tipped 40% of domestic waste – and domestic energy use has fallen.
That’s not to say all is rosy, quite the contrary, there’s a colossal amount to be done as the IPCC will tell us next week, but we are moving in the right direction. To achieve anything close to sustainability, we’ve got to lower the barriers to participation to get as many people on board as possible – it has to be a mass movement, not the preserve of a select few. Resenting progress is an incredibly shortsighted, damaging and frankly self indulgent perspective. To accelerate, we need to build on momentum, help people succeed, celebrate, AND then encourage them to go further.