SOS: Sick Of Sustainability

Posted on: December 20, 2012 by Jose Esteban Lauzán

Why sick of Sustainability? Customers, partners and colleagues seem increasingly tired or disenchanted with the concept. The same goes for friends and acquaintances not in the IT or related businesses. Even xkcd published about it:

The term is overused since before 2005, and especially in the English-speaking areas (US, UK, Canada, Australia), as you can see in Google Trends.

It seems that people are tired of the excessive use of the word “Sustainability”, which has become yet another buzzword. However, following the same reasoning, we could all become sick of love, friendship, honesty, trust, or any other good human value just because the words are overused in media.

Enough is enough.

Let’s get a few basic facts straight:

- Sustainability is not only about “green”. Sustainability is about People & Society, Economy (finance & business) and Environment. What are the big uncertainties that plague us today?: whether public pension schemes are sustainable, whether nations’ finances are sustainable, whether certain business and organizations are sustainable, whether the energy landscape is sustainable … It doesn’t look like we can get rid of the problem simply by erasing or banning the term, does it?

- Sustainability hype is not to be blamed on Sustainability. If you’re into the blame game, put the blame on the hype-mongers. The same ones that made us hate the words “paradigm”, “synergy”, “holistic”, “innovation” (ouch!) and the like. Call them on it! And do it before they force you to burn the whole dictionary!

- Sustainability, like breathing, is not an option. You can’t go too far by accomplishing today’s goals at the expense of tomorrow’s resources. Furthermore, there’s the question of Transitive Generosity: let’s leave something at least as good as what we inherited. Being autocritical, whilst advancing so much on certain fronts, we baby boomers and gen-x-ers are leaving a rather messy state of affairs for the next generations to cope with. Chronic high unemployment, dysfunctional education systems, mountains of debt, very unbalanced distributions of wealth… and yes, dear green-haters, also a damaged environment.

If short-sightedness is “a vision problem which means that people can't focus on distant objects, making them look blurred” (BUPA definition), I think it’s pretty clear that we all suffer a pandemic of short-term-sightedness. People and organizations focus on achieving short-term goals nearly at any expense. Their implicit motto: “Après moi, le déluge”

On a brighter note, I interpret the reactions against Sustainability as some of the last gasps of the old dying structure; a futile reaction against the inevitable. After decades of generalized narcisism we are waking up, not without discomfort, to the notion that it is not too wise to make the train run by using the wagons as fuel. Marx had already taught us that a long time ago. And I mean Groucho.

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About Jose Esteban Lauzán
Head of Innovation at Atos Iberia, founding member of the Atos Scientific Community, Atos Distinguished Expert and member of the Scientific Community
José is the Head of Innovation at Atos Iberia, Editor-in-Chief of Journey 2020, founding member of the Atos Scientific Community and Atos Distinguished Expert. He is passionate about Innovation and how it can transform business. Jose leads innovation activities in Spain & Portugal, including Innovation Workshops, pilots, proofs of concept and events or the Employee Start-Ups initiative. He leads the Systems & Solutions domain at global level. He also collaborates with the Executive Committee on corporate initiatives, with R&D and Markets in the transfer of successful results to the Atos portfolio, and with Legal departments in IP-related initiatives. José started his career as a researcher at university (simulation, DSP) and innovator at the Spanish Medicines Agency (leading its transformation into an electronic organization). He joined Atos in 2000, as chief engineer, manager of R&D teams and coordinator of large international projects in eHealth, natural risk management, video and human language technologies.

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