Good words. What do they mean?

Goodfest 2022 promised creative conversations. And it delivered – from the sea-view conference rooms to the fireside. It also got me thinking, what are the barriers we create with the language we use for good, of the social or environmental kind? Do we need a different language for a different world?

By: Paul Dicken,   3 minutes

The politics of language was never far away from my visit to Goodfest.

Then, post-Goodfest – and two-days of all those creative conversations on doing business better, from pensions investments to avoiding greenwashing – I heard the UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Ranil Jayawardena, tell BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions audience that: “This government. This government is the greenest government ever.”

Whether you agree with the politics or the policies is by the by. How does anyone make sense of what the word green means here? It took me right back to many of the conversations I’d had that day and the day before.

In this world striving to change enough to limit the impact of the climate crisis, is the dominant language we exist in stopping us? Are some of the words we have for the change we need working against that change?

Ultimately, do we need to emerge from the dominant language and ideas of business and society, if everyone is to make sense of the different way we need to live?

No one left behind

From Jelle Mul’s talk on the Patagonia story, to Dan Burgess on Becoming Crew, to John Brown at Don’t Cry Wolf, to Ayan Said of Voicing Voices, a recurring theme that came up at Goodfest 2022 was inclusivity. How can everyone be part of the change the world needs?

Changing the dominant narrative must be one way. ‘Sustainability’ and ‘green’, and all the ideas and meanings that live within them, still feel like fringe subjects that only have meaning for the few, not the many.

They’re also terms that have been hijacked by those seeking to shape their own narrative: we can have 20th century capitalism with a Corporate Social Responsibility policy bolted on the side. But that isn’t going to cut it.

We need to find a way of talking about sustainable business as business, if we’re sticking with the market economy as our way of doing things.

We need to find and tell all the reasons why a different way of doing business and living is the way – not just an optional way – for the earth-conscious higher earners and the brands that cater for them.

“ The pursuit of personal and corporate monetary wealth remains the lingua franca of today’s politics and economics. If we can make a word so politically and economically powerful, we can remake it too. ”

To be well or wealthy

At Goodfest, Amy Clarke of Tribe Impact Capital spoke about the emerging world of positive impact investing. Hardly mass market, but it’s a fast-growing sector. It also holds the potential to remodel the capitalist model. The notion of investing in a de-growth fund is an idea few would have had time for just three years ago.

But to remodel the model we live and work by requires a reshaping of the accepted ideas that underpin it. Words will be key.

When Emma Stratton, CEO of Bedruthan and Scarlet Hotels, and Manda Brookman, of Permanently Brilliant, spoke about sustainable lives, they interrogated some of the different ways we can think about our world. That afternoon, the origin of the word wealth was discussed. That can be found in the Old English wela which at some point had the meaning ‘wellbeing’.

The pursuit of personal and corporate monetary wealth remains the lingua franca of today’s politics and economics. If we can make a word so politically and economically powerful, we can remake it too.

That’s a challenge for all of us; how can we tell the stories of a new way of being wealthy that goes beyond concept and theory?

With feeling

Anger was another current running through the assembled participants at Goodfest. The place many of us find ourselves in today is a cocktail of emotion that takes in everything from hope to despair, anger to indifference.

That change just ain’t coming fast enough is one of the factors evoking this emotional freefall. How we talk about our changing world should reflect that. The actions we take should too.

If you’re angry about the health of our world right now, not everyone is with you. Likewise, if you’re ever hopeful.

We need to free better business from the terms set out for it by the language we have.

We need to be more human, more emotional. And we need to be real and responsive in how we talk about all that change. We need to truly be good.


Created at Goodfest 2021 and available to sign up to at this year’s event, the Sustainable Creative Charter is a guide to the actions creative businesses and their clients can take to be better.  

Read At Least We Had an Asteroid for more on communicating better in the world we are in.

Image credit

Protestor photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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