The “S” Word


So dull, so technical, so pedestrian (… wait, I love pedestrians), so stuffy.  Not the concept, mind you, just the word.  It’s not vibrant.  It’s not verdant.  It’s not juicy.  It’s not fun.

My friend JudyDungbeetle and I talk about this problem from time to time. The problem also got brought up during a recent phone conference for some of the educators affiliated with Bioneers.

Cabrillo College Sustainability Council

I  use the “S” word and its variants all the time.  I’m the faculty sponsor of the
Cabrillo Sustainability Council.  I taught a class called “Surviving the Future: The (Re) Emergence of Sustainable Cultures.”  I’m hosting a workshop on Monday called “Building a Sustainable Culture at Cabrillo.”

It’s just not a very good word.  The sound is all wrong. It’s intentionally vague about what in the heck we’re supposed to be sustaining.  The craptastic status quo? And we just… what, find something we can keep doing, and keep doing that?  No improvement.  No melody —  just a long, sustained note.

Economy is one function of societies, which are fully embedded in living environments.
click image to view animation

Sustainability also suffers from its wishy-washy use in so many business and policy circles.  It’s usually tied in with the old saw about the “triple bottom line”: “environment, economics and equity” or “people, planet and profit.”  The implication is that these need to be “balanced,” as if commerce should be weighted equally with the members of the human species that do it, and the functioning ecosystems that species requires for its survival and activities.

In a workshop with the lovely and amazing Lauralee Alben a few years ago, we were challenged to come up with a question that guides our life.  What I initially arrived at was “How can I connect with, learn from and teach people so together we can co-create a sustainable, resilient culture?”  I’ve since updated it to “How can I connect with, learn from and teach people so together we can co-create a regenerative, resilient culture?”


Regenerative isn’t a vast improvement, word-wise.   The meaning is somewhat improved, suggesting some growth, development and progress in an organic way.  But it sounds more like using a speculum than a caress: not sexy… clinical.

I don’t want to have to redesign all those logos and go through curriculum committee to get the name of my course changed.  And at least everyone has heard the “S” word and has some idea of what it’s about.  But a yummier, more sensual, more reverent word belongs here.  Something that sounds more like a celebration of life than a grim bulwark against extinction.

Greetings from Acorn Nation
click image to view animation


  1. Liked your post. Wish I could find a single word that implies progress and positive evolution too, not just sustainability or even regeneration. If you find it let me know….


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