The Lexicon of Sustainability

“Words are the building blocks for new ideas. They have the power to activate change and transform societies.” – The Lexicon of Sustainability

The sustainability world is full of words. Quite a lot of them. Some are words that the general public uses and understands, some are not. Some words have been used and manipulated by politicians and advertisers for their agendas – greenwashing. We all use words when defending our ideas, when speaking for our campaigns, when describing our developing projects.

Douglas Gayeton and Laura Howard-Gayeton know that words have power. They recognize the need for a deeper and more widespread understanding of sustainability rhetoric. They have spent the past three years working on a project they call “The Lexicon of Sustainability” – a collection of informational, photographic art that exposes the stories of individuals working in the sustainable food system, and the concepts that go along with their work.

The website states the simple premise of the Lexicon of Sustainability: “People can’t be expected to live more sustainable lives if they don’t even know the most basic terms and principles that define sustainability.” And so these two visionaries set out to talk to people, to take photo and video footage of the work that they do, to define the terminology that is wrapped up in their stories and their values. Their media, which can be explored in depth on their website, includes stories and ideas contributed by almost two hundred leaders of the food movement. Themes range from “cage free” to “biodiversity” to “urban farmer.” There are plans to expand the project outside of the food realm. Soon the site will launch a “Social Network of Ideas” that will allow individuals to define terms and engage in virtual conversation regarding meaning and terminology. There is infinite room for growth and expansion.

Check it out for yourself! Spend a good chunk of time perusing the site. The premise of the project and the crafted images are bound to promote thought. Do we need a “lexicon of sustainability”? How do we ensure that this type of media serves a greater purpose than simply giving a privileged audience something cool to look at?

I think there is great potential here. It’s about reclaiming our own words. It’s about wiping away the greenwashing and returning to the root of the rhetoric, which exists to describe ideas and systems that have been around for thousands of years. Reclaiming meaning. Occupying the dictionary, if you will. If what we’re after is transforming our societies, transforming our lexicon might be an essential step. Students can play a pivotal role in the process, because students are educated, active, passionate, and engaged (at least in the CSSC, they are!). I sincerely hope a large body of students mobilizes to join this “social network of ideas,” to contribute their wealth of knowledge and help cultivate this living organism of words and concepts. So stay tuned – the Lexicon of Sustainability is something to follow.


Posted in _Excerpt, California Student Sustainability Coalition Magazine.


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