With apologies to Moving Pictures
The academic community have been tying themselves in knots for 25 years arguing amongst themselves over what it means, and while a few members of the corporate world seem to not only have a fairly good idea what sustainability is, but be pretty damned committed to it, when you raise the subject, most exhibit the same expression I wear when my step-daughter tells me that One Direction are brilliant musicians and better than the Beatles.
So if the business and academic communities are still getting their heads around it, what to the public think?
How many of the men, women and teenagers queuing up at the malls have heard of the Brundtland commission? Or think that a triple bottom line is a term describing fat people in leggings? How many people reading claims about sustainability think it’s just another advertising buzz word that sells hybrid cars or soap that’s kind to dolphins?
Research has shown that the majority of consumers would rather do the “green” thing, especially if the barriers aren’t too high, and that makes sense. Sensible people want the world to be a better place and don’t want to leave their children with problems. Normal people really don’t like it when rivers are polluted by industry (even dear old dairy), rainforests get cut down for toilet paper and massive trawlers suck every living fish out of the water. Hell, it could be said that the most people are greenies, even if they don’t realise or acknowledge it. Most people would really like the concept of sustainability if it was explained to them, but has anyone actually done that? And has anyone ever sat down and asked consumers what they think sustainability means?
Consumers need to be able understand that business sustainability is more than just giving the rep a hybrid car or recycling the photocopy paper. They need to know that sustainability, when it’s done properly, is the ultimate in win-win outcomes and will actually improve their lives in the areas that count. Businesses that are working to be sustainable need their current and potential customers to know what they’re doing and why. They need their customers, neighbours, suppliers and even competitors to know that they’re doing something that will benefit everyone.
I reckon that it’s time to stop talking amongst ourselves about sustainability assuming everyone else understands us, and to find out what people think sustainability actually is so we can begin to communicate the concept effectively. Only then we will see the change that has to happen.