Tuesday, October 27, 2015

What Is It about Jargon and Environmental Sustainability?

I watched a recent Facebook discussion rail against the constant use of the term "resilience". I was drawn to the debate because I was researching a blogpost for Center for the Future of Museums on, wait for it, resilience.

What is it about jargon and environmental sustainability?

When I speak to new audiences or work with new clients, I first must overcome the suspicions and inaccurate assumptions about environmental sustainability.

Often the obstacle is the trendy appearance of a green message. Many new terms struggle through a rough lifetime arc. Here is what it looks like:

  • born into obscurity;
  • steady development suddenly explodes into market saturation;
  • the term's celebrity damages its reputation; and then
  • the public dismisses it as jargon.

This is compounded as every idea is tested, refined, and tested again. As practitioners learn  more through each test, the language gets more specific. The terms proliferate and the cycles go 'round, and 'round, and 'round. Soon it seems to outsiders that there are more trials than successes, and more jargon than clarity. The public is weary and the language is tired.

Rebuilding Marshland with Pickering Creek
What's a greenie to do?  Keep on keeping on.
  • Give them successes. Invite them to join you. 
  • Admit that it doesn't always work. Ask them for ideas. 
  • Engage them in conversation. Model green practice. 
  • Learn all you can to improve green practice. 

...and celebrate when the public complains about green lingo: it means they've been hearing a lot of something green; it means something or someone is raising awareness; and some of it will lead to clearer thinking, continued practice, and continuous improvement.

Best of all, some of that jargon will become shared understanding and platforms for collective work.

Some people may not like the term resilience. That's okay.
I can guarantee that they will like what resilience can do for them, and their families and communities. Really, that is all that matters.

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