Sustainability vs. Homeland Security

Sustainability is everywhere these days. Just browse through the ads in Architectural Record and you’ll be amazed how every single building materials producer finds something green in their product – no matter how energy intensive it was to produce. There is also an onslaught of “sustainability” events around us. Earth Day had just passed when I received a conference announcement flyer that mentioned three “sustainable” conferences on one page:

Sustainability conferences

While sustainability seems to be guiding many discussions these days, not too long ago “homeland security” was the catchword of the day.

It has been interesting to monitor the development of these two key terms over the past few years and especially since September 2001. Both of these terms have shaped particularly the US American society’s behavior and decision making in the past years and the second one is bound to continue doing this for some time to come. Arguably, the first one will, too.

In comparing them, it is important to realize that both relate to people’s innate fears. The first was of course a reaction after 9/11 to the fear of the “homeland” being attacked. By the way: this was expressed not as “national” security but rather as “homeland” security, which includes two tangible terms (“home” and “land”) instead of something as abstract as “nation”. Ah, the power of rhetorics!

The second one is a reaction to the fear that we might be ruining the world for our children. Wherever users of this term come from – be it environmental sustainability or economic sustainability – people have an interest in providing the next generation with similar opportunities as they have had. Together with the ongoing discussion about climate change, the recent rising cost of energy and problems caused by depletion of natural resources, sustainability in the environmental context is bound to be with us for a while.

Reviewing the barrage of ads on the first few pages of Architectural Record (and similar planning-related publications) over the past years, it appears that the post-9/11 demand for suppliers of safe-and-secure products has been replaced in the last years by the demand for green products. Trying to quantify this anecdotal evidence a bit better, I typed both terms into Google Trends and produced the graph below. Although this is not a very precise comparison of trends, it provides a good hint at them.

(Source: Google Trends)

You can see in the image above that while “homeland security” still produces a higher search volume than “sustainability”, the gap is closing fast. Sustainability has especially been picking up since early 2007. And if we just look at the News related volume, then you can see that this gap has fully closed in the last months and sustainability has taken off. Let’s watch where it goes from here…