It’s happened before. A new idea or a timely trend emerges outside the mainstream, and soon there are so many “wannabes” trying to grab some of the glow (whether it’s edginess or artiness or greenness) that they co-opt the idea and gut its meaning.
An example from my not-too-distant past: I used to play guitar in a punk rock band. Back then, punk was about straining against the excesses of the mainstream — in music, in politics, and in society in general. Old School Punk (OSP) was about much more than leather jackets and Doc Martens, but soon enough its trappings were adopted by those wanting to project a coolness completely disconnected from the message or the music. There’s a story about the OSP that runs into a kid wearing a Clash t-shirt from Hot Topic. Assuming he’s found a kindred spirit, he says, “The Clash changed my life. I was so sad when (lead singer) Joe Strummer died.” And the kid says, “Who’s Joe Strummer?” Ouch.
That same disconnect is evident now around sustainability. The dictionary defines sustainable as an adjective describing to a way of using a resource so it’s not depleted or damaged. Even before its recent explosion in popular media, the word had become linked to the concept of environmental management. But is a company sustainable simply because they purchase some renewable energy credits? Too frequently I see examples where a company seems to be touting sustainability simply for its marketing value. In a sense, I guess it’s good that as a society we know it’s a virtue to be sustainable (in all of its meanings, including economic). But I wish people took a little more care in choosing their words. To me, this is serious business.
We can’t afford to let the concept of sustainability lose its meaning, and that’s why we have be so careful when we talk about it. That’s why at Earthbound Farm we’re so careful when we talk about sustainable things we’re doing and where we need to do better. By being forthright about embracing the environmental challenges we face, we’ll have the greatest opportunity to affect serious change.
Samantha Cabaluna leads Earthbound Farm’s communications team, where she regularly grapples with this dilemma.