Continuing the debate: Natural vs. Sustainable
By Martin Goebel
In the recent op-ed "It's Time to Ditch Sustainability," Spencer Beebe started a much-needed conversation about the term sustainability and challenged us to think about its meaning and practice.
He suggested "natural" as a substitute name for the movement because sustainability has been so co-opted. He may be right — it's oft-co-opted. But I see it differently.
Could it be "sustainability" has been such a big success that it's so co-opted because it's so meaningful? Sustainability already goes by many other phrases — conservation based, low carbon, green, net zero development, triple bottom line, among others — which demonstrates just how many creative ways this movement can speak to the wide array of people who must, or want, to be part of the change.
Right now, "natural" is the subject of much mis-information, controversy and debate. Industry leaders like Ben and Jerry's recently took "all natural" off all packaging because it is increasingly confusing and meaningless to consumers.
What if Walmart, Costco, Burgerville or the State of Oregon refused to carry any product that was not certifiably sustainable? These organizations and many more are moving in that direction because it has become the most powerful framework for positive change for businesses, people and communities. As un-joyful as "sustainability" sounds, it has captured hearts and minds and unleashed innovation and many good new products and whole new industries.
The only way to reach the end goal is from the bottom up and top down, from inside out and outside in — with each individual, organization, business, or community doing its part wherever they best fit and have most leverage. Not recognizing that — and encouraging it — is to leave out many change agents and early adopters that are eager to jump on, or advance, the sustainability cause.
Martin Goebel is the president of Sustainable Northwest. His last Sustainable Business Oregon post was "Sustainability is a big tent."
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