The Air Up There: Why We Hate the Word Sustainable

By: John Demeter
June 2010

Google the word “sustainable” and you get 78,200,000 hits.  Google the phrase “I hate the word sustainable” and you get 855,000. Good. We are not alone!

We often get into arguments over the word “sustainable”, usually because it means different things to different people and it has managed to wedge itself into the public discourse over man’s handling of the environment, which is a surefire way to get into a fight. Include guns and tea parties and you can probably ruin a perfectly good evening with friends.

But we must admit, in modern lexicon the word “sustainable” does have a positive ring to it. Who doesn’t want something to be sustainable? Who doesn’t want the environment to be sustained? And because it’s such an attractive word – so very green, fresh and healthy – look for the word “sustainable” to continue to make its way into just about every companies advertising campaign from Kleenex to, well, umm fire suppression.

Yes, fire suppression! Having just returned from this year’s National Fire Protection Association meeting in Las Vegas (Michael Mina’s is still our favorite restaurant) we want to report that the word “sustainable” was mentioned more than room pressurization and liquid level indicator.  In fact, there is even a new organization that is dedicated to the propagation of “sustainable” fire protection. A link to this group’s website is here. We suspect we will be hearing more from them as time goes by.

We were stuck by three things: first, there really is no commonly acceptable definition of the word; it is always defined by the user; second, the user usually has an agenda that may not be apparent; third, everyone’s product was “sustainable”! It was only the other guy’s product that was “unsustainable”. Shocking, huh?

The fire protection industry is built on standards. These standards have been developed over decades and include both production and performance standards such as UL, FM and NFPA as well as Codes of Practice and self policing and monitoring standards like those subscribed to by members of HARC and HRC. All of this has brought us a level of fire protection unmatched in the world. But now that the word “sustainable” has entered the industry’s vocabulary we wonder if it will compromise good fire protection. We hope not. And we certainly hope that good fire protection will not be compromised by a politically driven agenda veiled in the word “sustainable”!

Just another reason why we hate the word “sustainable”.

If you would like to see a PDF of this document click here:The Air Up There-June 2010

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