Some words hold a moral authority above all others. Sustainable is one such word. If something – anything – is described as sustainable, it’s presumed to be morally good. From sustainable forests to sustainable museums (whatever they are), these things are good things. No further explanation is necessary.
And that’s the problem with sustainable. It’s a word that closes down conversation. Once someone has told you their museum exhibition stand is sustainable, you can’t question it. The presumption is we’re all aiming to attach that adjective to as many things as possible.
That’s why sustainable is a dangerous word. It stops you thinking.
We’ve had other words like that in the past. Discipline, for example. Once, if a parent was described as imposing discipline it was a great compliment. Every parent wanted to do that. But now the moral compass has changed.
So beware of words that kill conversation, rather than open it up. They might be considered good today. But tomorrow, who knows, being sustainable might have gone right out of fashion.