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2.4.1.2 Changing Language Use

Realizing the term sustainability carries baggage with it either because it has been co-opted by business interests, is a target for political pressure, or is simply not descriptive of their effort, some organizations have consciously decided to use different terms. For example, Heifer International® and Ecotrust both prefer the term resilience. Oakley Brooks from Ecotrust said:

Ecotrust is very much in the center in grappling with all the issues of sustainability but we deliberately try not to use that word.. .. We have tried to come up with our own terms to push the debate in different directions.. .. The framework we are using now is resilience and that is related to a school of thought, the Stockholm Resilience Center and others that are thinking of all the big changes that are going on in the world and the idea that the best work you can do as an organization.. .is really to focus on how you make the environmental, social, economic systems stronger and resilient—able to withstand big shocks, be they financial or climatic or social.. .. I think the international development community has been ahead of the local and even international green community, conservation community, using that term and thinking about resilience.. .. We would like to expand that to thinking about how does that translate into everyday wellbeing.. .. How does that make my life better today? We think that there are benefits today and benefits when those big shocks come.

Increasingly, organizations are talking about resilience, especially climate resilience. Researchers, policy makers, and community organizers find the term attractive (Polk and Servases 2015). Resilience occurs when a system, enterprise, or a person has the capacity to maintain its core purpose and integrity during dramatically changed circumstances. A truly resilient system can reorganize both the ways it achieves its purpose and redesign its operational scale. Polk and Servaes describe the role of participatory communication within one Transition Town. The Transition Town Network is a global social movement focused on developing community resiliency and sustainability. The first initiative began in 2006. By 2014, there were more than 1,170 groups in 47 countries, plus 11 official and 14 developing National Hubs (Hopkins 2014). Transition Towns start projects to increase sustainability in the areas of food, transport, energy, education, housing, and waste. Three communication processes are key: the provision of a framework that allows community members to respond collectively to challenges, resources to raise awareness of problems and to share community-developed solutions, and opportunities to share best practices through the Transition Network's central online hub. The group's philosophy is that a strategic community-led approach to sustainable social change must meet the need of residents already in crisis as well as those who have the resources needed to prepare for crises.

Although not a Transition Town, resilience is being discussed in Fayetteville, AR. Fayetteville is the third-largest city in Arkansas with a population of almost 75,000 in 2012. It was the first city in Arkansas to join ICLEI in 2006 but did not renew its membership in 2012. It operates with the mayor-city council form of government. The city created the first property-assessed clean energy (PACE) district in the State of Arkansas for commercial building. PACE is an innovative way to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades to buildings. A newly constructed city building over 5,000 square feet must meet a minimum LEED Silver standard. In 2012 the City began requiring all new homes to be energy rated and receive a RESNET HERS index score. This code emphasizes improvements in building thermal envelopes, including insulation improvements, improved window U-factor requirements, the testing of air leakage from HVAC ducts, and increased lighting efficiency requirements. It was recognized as a Bronze-level Bicycle Friendly Community, ranked sixth in the 2009 Natural Resources Defense Council Smarter Cities Project, and won the 2013 National Wildlife Federation Rex Hancock Wildlife Conservationist of the Year Award. Fayetteville's 2030 comprehensive land-use plan was adopted unanimously in 2011. Their goals include making appropriate infill and revitalization their highest priority, discouraging suburban sprawl, making the traditional town form the standard, growing a livable transportation network, assembling an enduring green network, and creating opportunities for attainable housing.

Peter Nierengarten, Director of Sustainability and Resilience for Fayetteville, AR, told me how he participated in an hour-long discussion about the use of the term sustainability at the 2012 USDN meeting in Portland, OR. Cities are using terms such as livable (Milwaukee), homegrown (Minneapolis), and greenovator (Boston). Austin, TX, is challenging their citizens to “rethink”—rethink water, rethink energy, and rethink housing. Susan Anderson, Director of Portland's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, admitted she rarely uses the word sustainability but said that the topic was woven throughout the myriad of conversations she has with other department directors. Peter said:

I don't use sustainability because it turns off skeptics. On our website it says 'The City of Fayetteville is focused on becoming a resource efficient community of livable neighborhoods that meets present needs without compromising opportunities for health, well-being and the prosperity of future generations.' Basically that is the definition of sustainability without using the word. Livable to me is a nice replacement word.

Peter's department is focused on a triple-bottom-line approach (i.e., economic, environmental, and social) to policy development and project management.

Given that the definition of what is sustainable is often political and contested (Jacobs 1999), social judgment theory, developed by Sherif and his associates, helps us understand the relationship between attitude change and communication involving statements with challenged connotative meanings. The theory conceptualizes an attitude as a range of possible positions on an issue, some extreme and

some moderate, which fall along a continuum (Seiter 2009). Any given individual's attitude falls within a particulate range on this continuum and each of us has an anchor point which is our preferred position. Some statements fall within our latitude of acceptance, others fall within our latitude of rejection, and finally others fall within our latitude of noncommitment (i.e., we are ambivalent). Messages falling closer to our anchor point are distorted favorably and seen as closer to our attitude than they may be. Those falling further from our anchor point are distorted negatively. More persuasive communicators engage in audience analysis and create messages which fall within an individual's latitude of noncommitment. Ego-involved people have wider attitudes of rejection. For example, as someone who grew up in eastern Kentucky and knew many miners who suffered from coal miners' pneumoconiosis (i.e., black lung disease), I automatically reject any messages utilizing the term clean coal, as do many environmentalists. Social judgment theory helps me understand why some of my interviewees sought to use words other than sustainability in their discussions. They realized that if they use words that were uncontested, listeners will be more likely to consider the content of the message rather than immediately reject it. Also, audiences may respond more positively to ambiguous messages delivered by credible sources. Best Practice: If the term sustainability doesn't resonate in your organization, find one that does which addresses sustainability-related concerns.

 
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