‘Resource scarcity will become a major factor for our world so we all have to accelerate the pace of our commitment. Which is why we’ve adopted an approach we call…’
For communicators working in the competitive field of sustainability, there is a constant war of words, a proliferation of jargon, as we jostle for funding opportunities and unique ways to express how what we do is better and more effective than the other sloths.
Hence the humble word ‘training’ has become capacity building, which can morph into an on-the-ground train-the-trainer approach, before winding up as locally-owned participatory skills development. And so it goes, a never-ending proliferation that can leave even the most astute reader cross-eyed and ready to slit their wrists.
But it’s not really the people in the development/sustainability world that we should be worried about. We can all stay in our cages and talk with one another and justify our existence in our own special way. The ones we should fear are those who do not understand the language.
It’s the people who jump into the proliferation game – the Iran or North Korea equivalent – who see a few flashy words that sound good together and then mash them up into a dangerous stew of radioactive ‘sustainability-speak’ (like that which started off this post).
In this case, it’s in everyone’s best interests that we keep clear and make sure our words our not just hollow shells that sound good together. Let’s create something that your mother can read and understand. Let’s deploy the tools of honesty and openness so that all can join in at the table.
I once entered into an argument over whether a project should be described as a ‘food security’ or ‘food sovereignty’. I knew there was a difference, but I pushed back against our project managers saying that the general public would relate more quickly to the term ‘food security’. But then I realized how much more accurate and powerful food sovereignty was as a concept.
It’s not just about making sure people have food, it’s about people owning their decisions on food. It’s people not being dependent on a heaving food system of interlocked international trade for their daily bread. Looking at it from that perspective, I would say that while most people in the US or Europe (myself included) may enjoy food security, we are far from reaping the fruits of food sovereignty.
And that’s when this whole business of clarity and accuracy became clear.