“sustainable /se’stanebel / • adj. • Ecology (esp. of development, exploitation, or agriculture) conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources.”
– New Oxford American Dictionary, Second Edition
I have an innate dislike for the word “sustainable” because it’s a kind of contemporary neologism that doesn’t seem to have a naturally comprehensible meaning. It doesn’t fit intuitively, to my mind, into the syntax of sentences where it’s used. If one says “sustainable furniture,” what is it about the furniture that’s able to be sustained? Looking at the definition above, I can’t help but think that the word should instead be “sustaining,” or “sustained” – both equally awkward.
It reminds me of another term that I’ve always hated: “relationship,” referring to a state of being between two persons. When it came into general use in the 1960s I thought: what’s wrong with “marriage,” or “friendship”? Presumably it was applied to the growing number of couples openly living together out-of-wedlock, but to me it had a false ring to it, a pretentiousness. Frank Zappa made his feelings about the term quite clear with:
“No one could understand our bizarre relationship because I was your intellectual frigid housekeeper.”
– Frank Zappa, Our Bizarre Relationship, Uncle Meat (1969)
It irks me that I have to use “sustainable” because it’s so obviously a necessary keyword in our digital world/marketplace. But I don’t use it because I like it!
– Dave Wilder