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 enterprise” in just one word is a difficult task. Environmental and conservation are words of yesteryear. Green had fallen out of favor and sustainability has become 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--or 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 the 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 grass roots 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 word 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 small business leaders like Valerie Standen 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.

Pictured: a street protest in Athens, Greece, November 2010

Reposted on Triple Pundit on December 26, 2011.

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com. Based in California, he is a business writer and consultant. His work is has also appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He's pictured here in Qatar, one of the Middle East countries in which he takes a keen interest because of its transformation into a post-oil economy. Other areas of interest include sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). As of October 2013, he now lives and works in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.