Behavioural Innovation


The ‘Sustainability Agenda’   

A note on the use of the ‘S’ Word. 

There’s been much valid discussion about the term ‘sustainability’ (here and here and here, for instance) and how it may hinder rather then help us affect change. Whilst we agree with much of what is being said (especially when it comes to engaging consumers/citizens) and we respect the importance of the language used to frame and advance a debate, we are keen to avoid getting bogged down in semantic quibbling.

We use the word ‘Sustainability’ unapologetically throughout this site according to our own specific definition. Sustainability is

The development of commercial Economic growth and commercial success


but we need to quickly move the debate forward to discuss what we do about it.

I’ve seen the social marketing and behaviour change community go around and around in a similar unproductive circle, with practitioners and academics ploughing through lengthy (some would say pedantic and self-serving) debates about how we talk about what we do.


Whilst I recognise the importance of the ‘branding’ issue, it is much more important that we (as a community) reach agreement on terms and vernacular and then make them our own through appropriate and consistent use. A community divided over what can be perceived as abstract semantic quibbling will damage our efforts to engage citizen-consumers with change more than using any of the existing terminology as it stands. Furthermore, whilst we are nit-picking our way through definitions, and the concepts that sit behind them, we are expending time, effort and energy thinking change, rather than doing change.

So, do we Reposition, or Rebrand? That is, do we decide for ourselves what the existing discourse ‘means’ and then consolidate the denotations and connotations through consistent and appropriate use (Wittgenstein, if anyone’s interested), or do we Rebrand altogether: a new start, a new name and clean set of connotations?

Either way, let’s do it quickly and decisively, so we can concentrate on the task at hand. Suggestions welcome through this blog or

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