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.

American Heritage:

  1. Capable of being sustained.
  2. 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:

21 up, 8 down

Sustainability is a lens through which to view all issues. The sustainability movement encompasses environmental justice and social justice, because one cannot be obtained without the other. It means living life to the fullest without compromising future generations’ ability to do so. It respects the interconectedness of all life and acknowledges the responsibility that each person has to consider the effects that his actions have on other life forms, both living and to be born.

The sustainability revolution is begining! Watch out you styrofoam using, carbon cycle ignoring, TV worshiping members of American consumer culture.

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.


6 Responses to ““Sustainability””

  1. April 9, 2008 at 4:13 pm

    Wow, this blog is just jam-packed with great stuff! Good insight on the topic and semantics of “sustainability.” Keep up the awesome work!

  2. April 10, 2008 at 7:10 am

    Great! I have added a link to this on the theatre tribe resource site.

  3. April 10, 2008 at 10:23 am

    Thank you Mike. I personally get bothered with the use of the word green. Green marketing drives me up the wall and I always use sustainability since it captures the idea that it is more than saving the environment, its about amount total quality of life and economic impact as well. Remember when we are “saving” the environment, we are saving the ability for human kind to remain in that environment. If we didn’t save it, we would die, but the universe and the then unpeopled earth would continue to persist.

  4. April 11, 2008 at 9:31 am

    Ian — you’re exactly right, of course. Saving the environment is a loaded term, and we’re really not even talking about survival, but about being fair and just to future generations, including our own children. A week or so ago, I looked at my wife and said, “you know, if we have kids in the next couple of years, it’s feasible that they will live to see the 22nd century–and our grandkids certainly will.” When you think about it like that, maintaining the status quo and our penchant for unchecked growth is abhorrently irresponsible and unjust.

  5. July 23, 2013 at 3:04 am

    I don’t even know how I stopped up here, however I thought this post was good. I don’t realize who
    you’re but certainly you are going to a famous blogger if you happen to are not already. Cheers!

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