Jargon Watch: Is "Sustainable" Over?

zaha chicago display image

Zaha Hadid's temporary "eco-pavilion" for Chicago's celebration of the Burnham Plan Centennial has been described as "sustainable." Inhabitat wondered why and asked; they were told that

Hadid’s curvilinear pavilion will be constructed out of fabric stretched over an aluminum frame. The tent-like form has been designed to be collapsable and easily re-installed. The goal is that after its debut in Chicago, the Hadid pavilion will travel to other locations such as a university or maybe even the Olympic Games in London.

zaha-aerial image

The word sustainable has been under stress for a while; Bill McDonough thinks it uninspiring, saying:

"We still have people talking about 'sustainability'! Nothing is more boring. Are you proud if your marriage is 'sustainable'?

And poor Zaha is taking a lot of abuse these days, including her recent bunfight with Cameron Sinclair. But really, "Sustainable" and "Zaha" have rarely been used together before, perhaps because calling a half-million buck projection screen made out of aluminum and high-tech fabric sustainable just because it is transportable is a gross distortion of the term.

It is no more sustainable than this:

lloyds chicken tub photo

Sustainable is Good covers advances in packaging, including a recent change at Lloyd's barbecue company (no relation). They take G-d knows what chicken parts and shred them and process them and put them in plastic tubs so that you can make five hearty sandwiches. They write:

In response to consumer demands for greener packaging, Lloyd’s BBQ Company just introduced new packaging for their popular BBQ tubs. Getting rid of the old, throw-away paper sleeve, all dietary and product information is now printed directly on the tub. Lloyd's claims that by making these changes to their packaging they are saving more than 970 tons of wood or 6,000 trees annually.

The owner has a page on "sustainability" and says "I’m out to fill stomachs, not landfills." And saving paper is good and has real benefits, a step in the right direction. But does removing an unneccesary paper wrapper from a plastic tub of chicken parts of unknown origin make it sustainable? They have an environmental impacts report containing this table:


The 1987 Brundtland Commission came up with the classic definition of sustainability:

Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Travelling aluminum projection screens and plastic tubs of shredded chicken parts do not meet it. TreeHugger loves small steps, but this is ridiculous. Let's save the word for meaningful change, or just lose it.

More on Sustainability:
Mocoloco Dumps Sustainable Design
10 Commandments of (Sustainable) Design
Allan Chochinov's 10 Steps for Sustainable Design
Herman Miller's Approach to Sustainable Design

Related Content on Treehugger.com