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What Does “Sustainability” Mean On SCN?

Looking at recent posts tagged to the category “sustainability” suggests that it has several non-overlapping meanings for SCN members, which makes the category less useful than it could be.

Here are some of the meanings that members seem to be thinking of when they use the “sustainability” tag on a post.

  • Having to do with managing environmental impact, being “green”, being aware of energy use, concerned with ecological “footprint”, and so on.
  • Concerning software which can be maintained over a long product life cycle. Its utility can be “sustained”, or prolonged.
    • One poster using it in this sense told me, “I intended to tie together the ‘timeless software’ slogan … with concepts of resource usage that would be self-sustaining.”

These meanings of the term are quite different. Maybe we need two terms to help people who are interested in Green Data Management to find what they are looking for, while people who are interested in extending the life of software can also find items that interest them.

(The separate tag “Green IT” is reasonably applied to information about making data centers or software more energy efficient, which is different from dealing with environmental regulations and other environmental or “sustainability” issues at the enterprise level. See The Green Data Firehose: Where Is All This Green Data Coming From?.)

The same confusion affects the “sustainability” forums. Although the Sustainability & CSR states it is about “Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) + Sustainability”, many of the threads seem to use “sustainability” in the second sense of prolonged utility.

Here is a useful summary at Wikipedia of the use and meaning of “sustainability” in the ecological/economic sense over the past 30 years.

I am fully aware of the difficulties of tag proliferation, taxonomy, and classification. I know that trying to shoehorn any aspect of the natural world, including human knowledge, into a finite number of categories is, in the end, hopeless. The world is too chaotic, complex, and changeable. Also, human language has its limitations as a means of communication. But it is the best we have got at the moment.

We can only hope to create categories that are useful to facilitate communication, while not creating so many categories that we can’t find the information that we want. It may be that data indexing systems like Google’s are better than tagging-based systems, but that’s another discussion.

Please use the “sustainability” tag wisely.

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  • I never know which category to use when.  That means I never know which one to follow.  So I simply follow all of them.  I find that I can get a lot of information that works for me from different categories that are not related to development / ranting / Sustainability and more…  

    The short description helps me a lot more than the category.  So “sustainability” vs. “green”, that doesn’t cause me issues.  The short description would quickly tell me if I wanted to read the blog or not.

    I suppose if there were a lot of blogs a day.  Well that would make it a problem. 

    Side note: I blog on SCN.  It has been commented that I put my blogs in the “wrong” category, and cause people to read them when they shouldn’t.  Or clutter up there RSS feeds.  So the more defined all the categories are the easier it would be to pick one.

    Wikipedia definition would confuse me even more.  I know I’m just pulling part of it:

    “Long-lived and healthy wetlands and forests are examples of sustainable biological systems.”

    And so – green IT?  Not really I only took part of the description.  It just means “long-lived and health” whatever.  Like “long-lived” and healthy IT.

    Ha to your other comments! I agree CHAOS.  So what do you think how many categories are needed?  That’s the question.

    So – how do you, personally, decide on which category to put your blog in…  Just curious.



    • @ Michelle
      I always write about sustainability (in the “green” sense) so I always tag with that category. Some posts have to do with energy use by computing so they get tagged “green IT” too. To be honest I don’t know what any of the other categories mean, so even if they might be appropriate I can’t use them.