Recently, a reader took a (small) bit of umbrage with my liberal use of the word “sustainability,” and thought I might find more accurate words to describe the topic of ecoTheater. It reminded me of a writing contest I noticed a year or so ago for some small literary rag that asked its readers to write an essay about the meaning of the word “sustainable.” At the time, I thought about how I might go about defining it in an essay — what it meant to me.
The recent critique of the media-friendly term has me thinking on it yet again.
So, let’s just go to the source of definitions: the dictionary. Or, let’s go to a few.
- Capable of being sustained.
- Capable of being continued with minimal long-term effect on the environment: sustainable agriculture.
a: of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged <sustainable techniques> <sustainable agriculture> b: of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods <sustainable society>
And, of course, the Urban Dictionary:
This final definition is perhaps my favorite. Why? Because it throws off the chains we force on ourselves with words like semantics (American Heritage Dictionary: The meaning or the interpretation of a word, sentence, or other language form) and linguistics (again, AHD: The study of the nature, structure, and variation of language, including phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, sociolinguistics, and pragmatics), and frees us to accept the meaning of a word as we really mean it — without academic interpretation, and over-analysis.
But for the most interesting information on the term, we may look to none other than the ever-controversial open source encyclopedia, Wikipedia:
“One of the first and most oft-cited definitions of sustainability, and almost certainly the one that will survive for posterity, is the one created by the Brundtland Commission, led by the former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland. The Commission defined sustainable development as development that ‘meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ The Brundtland definition thus implicitly argues for the rights of future generations to raw materials and vital ecosystem services to be taken into account in decision making.”
And so, the term sustainability remains one that I feel lends itself to the mission and goals of ecoTheater. While it may remain a word that is hard to pin down, I think my readers know what I mean when I use it regarding theater production: the goal of taking into account “the rights of future generations” when considering how we create art.