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Is ‘sustainability’ a good term?

March 12, 2015

In speaking with groups around the world, I find a degree of confusion over use of the term ‘sustainability’ when applied to trading relationships.

Increasingly, for specialists in the field of compliance, the term is used to refer to a range of environmental and ethical issues. it therefore tends to apply to the standards and behavior of suppliers or supply networks and whether or not they demonstrate ‘sustainable’ practices.

For many others, the term is used in the more traditional and rather broader sense of whether a relationship is sustainable – i.e. does it have a long-term future? in this context, it has mutual application and relates not only to issues of behavior, but also to questions of policy or strategy. This group often gives limited thought to the compliance issues that are fundamental to the emerging supply management specialists.

Does this matter? perhaps not, but it always seems unfortunate when the words we use create confusion and add to potential for misunderstanding. if we always have to define the context in which we are using a word, it makes its use somewhat inefficient and redundant. Perhaps we just need to think of qualifying terms – for example, to distinguish sustainable practices from sustainable relationships.

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