Sustainability and durability

The word “duurzaam” covers two completely different meanings in Dutch, ecologically friendly and long-lasting. So you can’t use “sustainable” as a catch-all translation.

Both translation software packages and real live people (including agencies and end clients) have a tendency to like a single target word as the fixed translation for a single source word. It doesn’t always work like that, though:

  • If you’re talking about green issues, the circular economy, renewable resources and environmental friendliness, it’s sustainability.
  • If you’re talking about business partnerships being long-lasting or products that won’t need replacing because they’re tough and there’s no wear and tear, it’s durability.

The two ideas can be interlinked, of course. A product that lasts ages and doesn’t need replacing (more durable) will often be greener (more sustainable) than a disposable equivalent, for instance. But keep the distinction in mind!

Prevalence: medium. A catch-all solution without needing to think about it is nice and people do fall into the trap. If indeed they realise that there are two different things going on.
Frequency: medium. Increasingly common as society’s focus is slowly changing.
Native: no. To the natives, the distinction is pretty clear.

Published by Mike Wilkinson

Twenty years of translating and editing Dutch into English, as well as writing and publishing in English.

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