Friday, 2 August 2013

What's the Polish for 'sustainability'?

A capital joke that had 'em all laughing in England was about the kid with a GCSE in Kindness who's just got a place at the University of Boy George to study Diversity, Inclusivity and Sustainability. All buzzwords des nos jours, guaranteed to raise the hackles of reactionaries who believe that Britain has focused too much on these trendy theories and while drifting ever futher behind when it comes to international competitiveness.

I'd not come down too harshly on sustainability myself, for this is an important concept rooted in ecology. "Sustainable almonds from sustainable trees, sustainable honey from sustainable bees*". Let us not waste natural resources thoughtlessly. Indeed, let us not waste anything thoughtlessly. Fuel; food; friendship. Sustainability is about the long-term long term; we should squander nothing and think of the future; our great-grandchildren's future and beyond.

From the business point of view, sustainable growth is the antithesis of short-term increases in share price; it's about ensuring that the company is still around in 50 years' time for the benefit of its shareholders, employers, customers and suppliers, as well as the economy. And the environment should not suffer neither.

Sustainability is the antidote to short-termism, which is the alpha-male market-makers' way of getting rich quick at the expense of all of the above.

In other words, sustainability is good. But how do we translate this blessed word into Polish? I've mentioned this before, now to get stuck into the semantics. The usual term, zrównoważony, means 'balanced', which is only part of the story. I'm glad to see utrzymywalny offered as an alternative; trwały is not quite there.

Something that works this year, and next year, and the year after that - it's not just a question of balance - or is it? I'm very keen on balance. It's a hard concept to sell to the electorate or to the shareholders. If there's give and take on both sides, a genuine quid pro quo, seeing both sides of the argument rather than sticking to one's own point of view, you're more likely to get along for the duration.

Yet human progress to date has rather been driven by single-minded, strong-willed individuals, from George Stevenson via Henry Ford to Steve Jobs. They'd tend to dismiss sustainability and balance as bunk. But other strong-willed individuals such as Adolf Hitler, have dragged mankind back towards barbarism.

How wedded are China's rulers to the concept of sustainability, for example? More than one might consider at first glance. Our European experience of one-party states is that of dictatorships that blew over in a couple of generations. China can take the long-term view because it's been around for so long. Environmental protection is more important to a populous nation hemmed in by mountains and deserts than to one spread out across nine time zones (China's population density is 141 inhabitants per square kilometre; Russia's is 8).

I'm trying to do my bit; cycling to work or taking public transport, recycling my rubbish. Let's think a bit beyond super summer hols and a brand-new BMW and a bit more about the long-term future of our planet and our species. Let us then sustain, and abide.

* Can anyone tell me which 1990s UK confectionery advert this samples?

This time last year:
Last chance to see Amber Gold's billboards in Warsaw

This time two years ago:
The Twilight Rambler


adthelad said...

Toblerone, out on its own. Triangular chocolate, that's Toblerone. Made with triangular almonds from triangular trees, and triangular honey from triangular bees, and oh Mr Confectioner please, give me Toblerone :) Instinctively I hummed the tune immediately I read your paraphrasing of this cleverly penned advertisement :) Shows my age doesn't it :(

Michael Dembinski said...

@ adthelad:

"Shows my age..."

To my surprise, the ad was made in 1997. I kind of associated it with 1968! The cartoon was clearly inspired by the Beatles' Yellow Submarine movie...