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Resilience: The Next Big Word for 2012

Leon Kaye | Monday December 26th, 2011 | 1 Comment
Protests in Athens, Greece - Courtesy Leon Kaye

Protests in Athens, Greece - Courtesy Leon Kaye

Create a “sustainable ad­vantage” to win in this new age of sustainability.

- From yet another sustainability consultancy newsletter.

Big symbolic words come and go, and for various reasons they often annoy. That is not the fault of the actual words: articulating ideas like “corporate social responsibility” and “social entrepreneurship” in just one word is a difficult task. Environmental and conservation are words of yesteryear. Green fell out of favor and sustainability became the latest word. Now sustainability has caused grumblings for its repeated overuse and abuse. The bludgeoning of sustainability, alas, has become unsustainable.

Watch for another word, which is hardly new, to gain traction during 2012. If that Mayan prediction that the world will end–almost end–rings true, this word will surge in use and popularity at the perfect time. And mercifully, it will not be “occupy.”

Resilience is a word that captures much of what has occurred over this past year: the Arab Spring; the anger that has boiled over into first the Tea Party and then the Occupy movements; strapped municipal budgets; and coping with an onslaught of natural and man-made disasters around the world. Whether we are talking about economic resilience, political resilience or social resilience, the R word captures what many at the grassroots are facing at a volatile time.

We watched the stoic Japanese demonstrate incredible resilience in March while the country’s federal government flailed about during the aftermath of Fukushima. Proud residents of Naples are bursting with incredible creativity as they deal with their city’s tortured battle with garbage while politicians in Italy squabble. Residents in various cities struggle to “green” their cities. In the Motor City, Detroit’s residents struggle to reinvent their city and gain green shoots of hope as its population and services crater. And yes, employees at corporations who lack the resources they need to do their jobs find ways to collaborate with other professionals within their companies and, at the same time, outside of their industries. Employees at Campbell Soup Company, Nike and even Walmart are showing resilience as they are tasked to do more with less.

Countries, such as Qatar, where the people have long been resilient before the discovery of natural resources, are preparing for an uncertain future in the event peak oil occurs. And with looming water crises that will hit people in countries of all climates and degrees of wealth, confronting a diminishing resource that we all thought was infinite will show outstanding examples of, yes, resilience.

The concept is nothing new. Vaclav Havel, who passed away this week, showed it as he led his people and a region to not only shackle the demons of Communism, but centuries of political games that left people like the Czecks and Slovaks as pawns. Artists like Daniela Mercury bring attention to the people in the farthest reaches of Brazil who do not benefit from their country’s economic boom. Thought leaders including Marcy Murninghan and Lucy Marcus have had their finger on stakeholders’ resilience in the business sector long before any of these oft-repeated terms became part of our vernacular. And social entrepreneurs like Benedicte de Blavous Moubarak work hard to offer economic opportunity to workers and artisans in often overlooked regions like the Middle East.

What will be fascinating to watch is how resilience is pitched in the coming years. Public relations and advertising agencies once avoided terms like “green” and “sustainability” like hot potatoes. Once they–and, in fairness, other professionals–have their heads wrapped around resilience, however, watch for the word to eventually become overused and criticized. For now, however, resilience embodies stubborn problems including the global fiscal crises, environmental degradation, corporate governance, social injustice and the mounting frustration with politics.

Leon Kaye, based in California, is the editor of GreenGoPost.com and contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business. You can follow him on Twitter.

Pictured: a street protest in Athens, Greece, November 2010, courtesy Leon Kaye.


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  • Anonymous

    We’ve asked our students to respond to this question on our facebook page at http://ow.ly/8i8Hp