J500 Media and the Environment

Translating definitions by Lauren Cunningham

Recently while eating at Angler’s in Lawrence, I saw something on the menu I hadn’t noticed before. 

On the back side of the menu, it was noted at the bottom that the restaurant was a sustainable seafood restaurant. I pointed it out to my boyfriend, feeling better about our decision to eat there, but I also wanted to know more about exactly what that meant. Below the headline, there was some information that kind of explained what the term “sustainable seafood” meant, but the two short paragraphs on the menu didn’t really inform me completely.

 Since then, I’ve checked out their Web site to see exactly what the restaurant meant by their sustainable seafood statement. They give some good explanations as to what they mean by sustainable seafood, but I wonder how the term translates to other restaurants and to those restaurants’ consumers.

The term “sustainability” has been thrown into a lot of media coverage about environmental or political issues. Often the word is defined as a balance between people, planet and profit. But I think it’s interesting that the word at one point didn’t include anything about the environment. 

I looked up “sustainablility” in the Oxford English Dictionary  through the KU Libraries Web site and found that up until December 2001, no definitions included anything about the environment. The definitions before 2001 did include descriptions of maintenance and the ability to be upheld or stand alone, which I am realizing is essential for others to understand in order to apply it to the environment.

I agree that it’s important to include the planet in the discussion when people take on sustainable projects or talk about making things more sustainable, but I’m not so sure that sustainability — the word itself — fully encompasses the aspect of the environment within its definition. It is nice to have a go-to word that can be used when discussing green or environmental issues, but I don’t think a single word cannot possibly sum up the planet, profit or people.

Instead of just labeling some project or item as “sustainable,” I believe meaningful discussions and definite definitions should be given to the public. Honestly, I don’t have a great answer as to who should give that definition, but I see more news outlets and blogs who are trying to offer some guidance. But of course, there’s always the question of who, if anyone, will actually take the time to educate themselves? My hope is that the term won’t try to define or take on too many aspects, and I hope more people begin to understand that research should be done in order to truly have a meaningful discussion about the environment and the food we get from it.

— Lauren Cunningham


5 Comments so far
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The professor in the youtube-movie got it right.

The question is good, as everything they/the companies want to sell, is “sustainable”, “eco”, “natural” and what not.

Here in Finland, I am working with a group that will build a house, with strawbales, stone, clay, sand and wood.
The *only* things we really buy is the water-proof for the roof and the processed lime.

Now, if we buy a solar panel, will that be sustainable?
No, not really, not here. We will get our money back, with the energy rates/fees here, but then:
– We have to know how much energy is used to produce the solar panel, the use of energy in the mines from where the metals comes from and so forth.
– To make the solar-power “sustainable”, we should produce:
1) The electricity we use, so that we could be off-grid. No, not really, but let us assume that we want to live in a “circle with the resources given us”, as the professors so well describes.
2) But we would also have to produce the amont of energy that is used in the production of this solar-panel. We live in Finland, so guess what? It does not work that way. In the south it would certainly work in that direction.

I do not know if this explanaition reach anyone, but as the adverisement people all the time “eco-stamp” what ever products, we have to be avare of the definitions.

Just an paralell example:
– Some day when you buy a re-made pizza, taken it from the freeze in the shop, you could read “Home made-pizza” or “DIY-pizza”.
Well, you stuff the icy thing into the micro-vawe, and you do that at home, do you not? Home-made?

Hopefully no ad-people read this. 😉


Comment by ProVillage


Sustainability is such a broad and difficult word to define. I liked your comment about sustainability being a “go-to word when discussing environmental issues.” Like you mentioned, I also think it is crucial for us to define these terms. I am curious, how would you define sustainability?

Micole A.

Comment by micolea


Thanks for taking the time to read my post, first of all. It’s hard for me to define sustainability in just one way because I don’t think the word should always include the environment in it’s definition, but rather it should include it when appropriate. Because the word is such a seemingly nice way for some individuals to refer to environmentally-friendly things, like I mentioned, I think it is such an easy go-to word, but doesn’t hold a lot of meaning.

Because we are discussing the environment, I would define sustainability as a condition in which something easily is upheld and can function without having a negative effect on the environment. I would argue, however, that sustainability can’t really sum up issues about the environment. I think a discussion is necessary rather than a single word.

Lauren Cunningham

Comment by Lauren Cunningham


Who was the professor in the video? Also, you said that you felt better about eating at Angler’s after learning that their seafood was sustainable. Have you made an attempt to make other sustainable decisions in your life, as well? -Kristina B.

Comment by kristinabev


I found that video on YouTube and saw that that man is Charlie McElwee who is a Shanghai-based environmental lawyer.

As far as your other question, I have started to try to make more thoughtful decisions in where I eat and what I buy or consume in order to be more environmentally-friendly. I definitely don’t always choose the most sustainable places to eat or foods, but I think about things like that whenever I go out to eat now. I think that’s the most important thing — to be able to constantly have it in the back of my mind.

Lauren Cunningham

Comment by Lauren Cunningham

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