Sustainable Words To Know


The word sustainability is being used more and more,  but its definition is dependent on who’s using it. The Living Principles is building an online dictionary of every term associated with sustainability so that there may be an informed discussion on the topic where everyone is working from the same definitions. If you don’t agree with their definition, you can comment with an alternative answer and it may be changed. If they don’t have a term that you think is important to discussing sustainability, you can add it!

Here are some of the definitions:
SUSTAINABILITY: Meeting the economic, ecological and social needs of the day without impairing the chances or development of future generations. (UN-Conference, Rio de Janeiro, 1992)

CARBON FOOTPRINT: The total amount of greenhouse gases emitted directly or indirectly through an activity or from a product, company or person, typically expressed in equivalent tons of either carbon or carbon dioxide. Methods of calculation have yet to be standardized.

CLOSED-LOOP SUPPLY CHAIN: Ideally, a zero-waste supply chain that completely reuses, recycles, or composts all materials. However, the term can also be used to refer to corporate take-back programs, where companies that produce a good are also responsible for its disposal.

CSR (CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY): A business outlook that acknowledges responsibilities to stakeholders not traditionally accepted, including suppliers, customers, and employees as well as local and international communities in which it operates and the natural environment. There are few accepted standards and practices so far, but a growing concern that the actions organizations take have no unintended consequences outside the business, whether driven by concern, philanthropy, or a desire for an authentic brand and public relations.

GOVERNANCE: The systems and processes of management that govern an organization’s behavior and conduct. Governance covers accountability, auditing, transparency (openness), reporting and disclosure, responsibilities and representation of various stakeholders (including shareholders, board of directors, advisory boards, employees, etc.) as well as charters, by-laws, and policies document the rights and responsibilities of all parties. Governance often includes strategy, risk management, and compensation, benefits, and evaluation of senior management. There is growing inclusion of governance issues within international certification systems, such as the GRI.

RENEWABLE: Any material or energy that can be replenished in full without loss or degradation in quality.

SROI (SOCIAL RETURN ON INVESTMENT): SROI is an approach to understanding and managing the impacts of a project, organisation or policy. It is based on stakeholders and puts financial value on the important impacts identified by stakeholders that do not have market values.

What do you think of these definitions? What do you think are the most important “sustainability” terms? How would you define them?

They don’t define ‘smart growth’ on their website, but that’s certainly an important one for what we do here at Renew Lehigh Valley. How would you define ‘smart growth’? What about ‘regionalism’?

Posted on June 11, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I think several of these definitions could be improved, but the most important is the very limited definition given for sustainability.

    The definition given above is widely repeated as if it were definitive, but it is better looked at as the first attempt to define sustainability. Unfortunately, it fails to include the importance of being equitable and improving the quality of life for all. Since that first attempt to define sustainability, most people have come to realize that sustainability is more than development and resources.

    The first major international response came in the Earth Charter, which is ‘a declaration of fundamental principles for building a just, sustainable, and peaceful society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations…’

    In Sustainable Learning Communities (University Press of New England, 2009), Tom Kelly suggests that instead of asking ‘What is sustainability?’, we need to reframe the question and ask ‘What sustains us?’ He goes on to say ‘The question elicits a genuine sense of the breadth and inclusiveness of sustainability without reference to any particular report or international agreement. This intuitive or common-sense grasp of sustainability is fundamental to building a common purpose, because common sense reflects common values that provide a foundation for dialogue, critical reflection, and collaboration. It also aligns with the idea of “quality of life” as a rich, complex tapestry that shapes “what people are able to do and to be”….’

    Of course, we could go back much further, to when indigenous people knew the importance of looking ahead when making decisions. I wonder if we can catch up to the wisdom shown by the Iroquois Confederacy that united the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora nations. As Oren Lyons, Chief of the Onondaga nation, put it ‘When you sit in council for the welfare of the people, you counsel for the welfare of that seventh generation to come. They should be foremost in your mind, not even your generation, not even yourself, but those that are unborn. So that when their time comes here they may enjoy the same thing that you are enjoying now.’

    Almost all modern definitions of sustainability include the concepts of equity and social justice for all (including future generations. (As do the mission and goals of the Lehigh Valley’s own Alliance for Sustainable Communities–Lehigh Valley).

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