You’ve all heard them. They’re there in every public document, press release, management plan and job description you’ve ever read. But do we know what they mean? And do they actually add anything to our understanding of the environment?
With the recent addition of the malleable term ‘Ecomodernism‘ to the lexicon of green-speak, it might be time to look at some of our other favourite buzzwords and ask ourselves ‘what does this really mean?’
Lets start with a big one: Sustainability. It has been rendered almost meaningless by it’s ubiquity. As a little test, I googled three companies at random (ok, not entirely at random). It should come as no surprise that Monsanto, BP and Philip Morris all have sustainability front and centre of their homepage, but when that’s the case, has it lost all sense of significance?
Then there’s biodiversity. What does biodiversity mean to people? Have we, as conservationists, persisted with a clumsy term, inconsistently applied and with no resonance with the public?
These words are becoming vapid. Vacuums. Phrases that take on whatever meaning we need them to. They are loose and ambiguous, with no strict definitions. As a ‘Scientist’ I can’t help but want to go all Linaean on them and define by family, genus, species – just what exactly does sustainable mean?
The theory is that these words help the public to reconnect with green issues by bringing terms and concepts in to facets of our everyday lives and making them more relevant. In many cases these terms do the exact opposite, placing a layer of babble between the people and the issues.
Is the adoption of these ‘catch all’ terms just another form of greenwashing? It’s an easy out for a product to describe itself as ‘organic’ and company to describe itself as ‘sustainable’ or a government to describe itself as the ‘greenest government ever’ without actually doing anything. It’s our duty to hold them to account.