Words (Photo: Nina Jean)Words are important. They “provide the mental structures that shape the way we see the world”, to say it with Lakoff. We use words in groups and conversations to make meaning.

Yet, I’m sensing a profound discomfort with many of the words we are using in the sustainability space. We were certainly lost for words at Thursday’s conversation on “CSR & Sustainable Development”.

Some felt that corporate social responsibility had become a shortcut for greenwash and mindless reporting. Others were concerned that sustainability was overused and had lost all connection to the original meaning. Both certainly didn’t have the ring of Action! and Change! that we were looking for.

Social entrepreneurship didn’t get a positive review either: We had seem too many well-meaning do-gooders that took the term as an excuse to dabble with nice projects without ever bringing them to scale (or break-even). And changemakers just sounds preposterous if used for oneself.

In the end, we agreed to focus our exploration on this question:

“How can we create companies that thrive on a healthy planet?”

Which words do you use to talk about making the transition to sustainability?
Which ones don’t you want to hear anymore?

Lost for words
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3 thoughts on “Lost for words

  • 19 June 2011 at 10:13
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    Spot on, Wiebke. We need to let go our obsession with words. But do I detect a glaring assumption in your question: How can we create companies…? As if creating companies is the purpose of the whole exercise? What other organisational forms can serve as well or better? Companies have arisen as a flexible solution to all sorts of things, inside the environment of the predatory capitalist economy, no? Isn’t it, rather, about thriving on a healthy planet?

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    • 19 June 2011 at 10:33
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      Helen, great! I have no answer to your questions, just to say: The meeting on Thursday focused on business and sustainability – thus the framing on companies. You are spot on: The question easily extends to all other forms of human organizations.

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  • 26 June 2011 at 15:16
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    @iyeshe @wiebkehere Interestingly, the focus on companies was discussed during the meeting, and… confirmed! It may be interpretation on my behalf, but I believe that thinking was along the line that companies are most in need of a transformation towards a more responsible, sustainable behavior. And that as long as the business world doesn’t fully embrace these concepts, the world (at large) won’t change! Hence the focus on companies. The minutes of the workshop were (finally) published http://tinyurl.com/64zc43z and we have created a group on the westartup environment http://tinyurl.com/5r2n5zh where you can also find a mindmap of the workshop outcomes. Both documents are complementary. Please feel invited to add/comment/question there also (to comment on the blog one must be a member of the westartup community, I believe) – @cdn

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