'Sustainable,' 'Green,' or 'CSR' - What's in a Name?

'Sustainable,' 'Green,' or 'CSR' - What's in a Name?

When it comes to talking about what to call what we at GreenBiz.com write about every single day, terminology has long been a big variable.

Are your company's energy efficiency, supply chain management, green IT, zero waste or renewable energy projects "green," or "sustainable," or "CSR"-focused, or part of a "triple-bottom-line" initiative?

It's an issue that's been up in the air for many many years, but it seems like we're getting closer to a much-needed consensus.

As part of a new survey about employee engagement, GreenBiz.com senior analyst John Davies asked a number of companies: "What term is used at your company to describe 'environmental' and 'sustainability' activities?"

Roughly half the respondents said that the term "sustainability" has become their preferred term describing their environmental sustainability initiatives. It's unclear how many companies use the word to describe only their environmental initiatives, or also use it to refer to their social programs, too.

Said Davies: "There are still people who chafe at its, use but as I always like to point out, it passes the Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart test of people knowing what it means when they see it."

Interestingly, the number of companies settling on "sustainability" as the go-to phrase gets bigger as company size increases: Although just 49 percent of all respondents say sustainability, 53 percent of companies with more than 10,000 employees say it's their word of choice.

Some variant of CSR is clearly the second-most-used term, though it's a distant second: the combined use of "Corporate Social Responsibility" and "Corporate Responsibility" ranked at 12 percent in our 2008 survey, and 12 percent in 2011 of the total. But for large companies, CSR is now preferred by 17 percent of respondents.

Meanwhile, GreenBiz.com executive editor Joel Makower, visiting Portland last weekend for a speech, was informed that the term "resilient" is moving up the charts.

Meanwhile, "greening" represents just 8 percent of the total, but it's just 2 percent for the aforementioned large companies. It ain't easy being greening.

I'd love to know: What is your preferred term -- and what terms do you detest? Let me know in the comments below.