Should We Be Using the Word ‘Sustainability’?

Challenging the word that constructed an entire industry

Victoria Halina
3 min readJun 6, 2019

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In 1972, the word ‘sustainable’ was first used in connection with the environment in The Ecologist’s landmark article, ‘A Blueprint for Survival’ — a text well before its time calling out the ‘irreversible disruption of the life-support systems on this planet’ in response to industrialization.

“The principal defect of the industrial way of life with its ethos of expansion is that it is not sustainable.” — A Blueprint for Survival, The Ecologist Vol. 2 No. 1

Interestingly, at no point in the entire text did the word ‘sustainability’ ever appear. Only the words ‘sustain’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘sustained’. More over, these words were used in relation to the creation of a sustainable society by radically changing it.

“Radical change is both necessary and inevitable because the present increases in human numbers and per capita consumption, by disrupting ecosystems and depleting resources, are undermining the very foundations of survival.”

Whilst it is understandable to see how the word ‘sustainability’ was borne from the text, arguably, its true meaning is lost today.

For example, a quick Wikipedia search of the word ‘sustainability’ highlights a fundamental contradiction:

Sustainability is the process of people maintaining change in a balanced environment, in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development and institutional change are all in harmony and enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations.

Sustainability is now a buzzword that is thrown around and its definition remains elusive to many.

A survey found that only 59% of consumers understood what the word “sustainable” meant, and 76% considered it “expensive”.

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Victoria Halina

Explorer, starter, change agent. Polymath — you’ll tell by my writing. Founder at www.alpacacoffee.co.uk — single origin coffee in plastic free packaging.