Traditional pedagogies advise educators to establish a list of terminology – a common semantic language – when introducing new and complex topics. Around the topic of sustainability, it seems that creating a shared vocabulary could make great advances in easing communication across disciplines, and moving past semantic hurdles.
In fact, key terms on the subject of sustainability do exist: dictionaries, Wikipedia, guidebooks, and textbooks offer definitions from multiple perspectives. Despite these known references, there is still a running debate about how we might even define the term sustainability, much less the adjacent terms.
While the concept of normalizing language has merit, the very nature of adopting sustainability as part of a value system – not an objective checklist of tasks – means that we need a different approach. In fact, attempting to create a stable and definitive set terminology would also ignore our culturally diverse design community. It would also not account for the importance of a design student’s personal understanding of the concepts necessary to practice sustainable design.
Sustainability is evolving and personal. One must discover it herself to truly relate to it. In the learning environment, educators must establish empathy; acknowledge existing frameworks, information, and organizations; and develop a common center of understanding. These actions can result in an emergent and relevant language of sustainability within a given context.