Several years ago, I had a conversation with a Parisian educator about design and innovation. When I enquired about sustainability, she replied that French designers weren’t terribly interested in sustainability. While a certain amount of ecological awareness was already part of their culture, doing something more sustainable just didn’t get most design students in France excited.
Further in the conversation, I asked about the correct French term for “sustainable design” (my French is VERY rusty after many years not using it). I expected it to be “design sustainable” but her answer was “design durable” (or conception durable)–literally, “design that is durable.” That explained why designers and design students in France weren’t particularly moved by this idea. It never occurred to me how different the term might be and how the translation itself might impact the imperative of its message.
When I suggested using the term “design systemique” (literally, systems design), she paused and smiled. Her response was “that might change everything.”
Consider how simple a change that is but what a profound difference it might make. How we frame sustainability changes people’s concepts and their involvement. This is more than just a “sales job.” It helps us understand the extent and importance of a concept. Reframing sustainability from something about durability (definitely a part of sustainability but not even close to the whole thing) to something about systems, changes our idea of where we can participate and how interesting an complex our solutions might be.
So, what is sustainability (or sustainable design) called in your language? And, what might it be called to get more traction?