Friday, February 7, 2014


_Flourishing: A Frank Conversation about Sustainability_ by John R Ehrenfeld and Andrew J Hoffman
Stanford CA:  Stanford Univ Press, 2013
ISBN 978-0-8047-8667-6

(ix)  For John, sustainability is not about windmills, hybrid cars, and green cleaners;  it is about the way we live.  It is about living authentically;  it is about our relationships with nature, with each other, and with ourselves.

(2)  According to the UN, the richest 20 percent of the world's population consume over 75 percent of all private goods and services, while the poorest 20 percent consume just 1.5 percent.

(4)  In his [Ehrenfeld's] words, "If we learn to make a product or service more sustainable, all we've probably done is figured out how to make the wrong thing last for a longer time. What we need to learn is to make not just any thing, but the right thing, and make it to last for as long as possible."  To him, most of our efforts to address sustainability are focused on reducing unsustainability, which is not the same as creating sustainability.

(7)  So, John defines sustainability as "the possibility that humans and other life will flourish on the Earth forever"…  As a result, John does not refer to sustainability per se;  he refers to _sustainability-as-flourishing_.  This modified term adds a culturally meaningful end to our act of sustaining;  we strive for a context in which all life can flourish.

(8)  Humberto Maturana, the Chilean biologist and philosopher, claims that love is a basic emotion that determines how humans relate to themselves, others, and the world.  The primary feature of love is acceptance of the existence of everything and everybody in the world on their own terms.  Love in this way shows up in the world as care.  When we love the world, we take care of it, not merely use it.

(21)  Increasing numbers of experiments and surveys show that, when asked, people say they are not happy.  There are visible signs of breakdown.  Almost every social indicator of happiness or well-being has been on the decline for years.

(22)  It's [flourishing] the positive image of a world that's working for both humans and everything else.  That is critical.

(31)  The traditional concept of poverty is limited and restricted, since it refers exclusively to the economic predicaments of people who live below a certain income threshold.  Instead, we should speak not of poverty, but of poverties in the manner of the Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef, who points out that any fundamental human domain of care that lacks adequate resources reveals a kind of poverty.

(39)  Technology is always a symptomatic solution.  It's always dealing with making some outcome different or better or worse.

(49)  If you look at the semantics of the phrase "corporate sustainability," it means a condition in which the corporation prospers for a long time.  I don't think this is what it was meant to refer to, but there it is.

(54)  Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes, and Peter Drucker have all said that customer satisfaction is the purpose of production and the overall economy.  

(60)  First of all, sustainability is a systems property.  You don't measure sustainability;  it's only a possibility.  You strive to attain it, to bring it forth.  It's either present in the system or it's not.  So no single company is going to be able to measure - which is what  a metric does - their specific contribution to sustainability.   What's important is whether they are promoting a culture of flourishing or not.  Are they structuring their company to promote fairness, wellness, equality, ecosystem health, and community cohesion?  It is only these kinds of measures that would indicate, and only indicate, that a company is working toward, rather than against, sustainability.

(63)  Anger is not an emotion that I find very effective.  More accurately, you can talk about my being indignant and sad.  Most companies are doing things that are beneath our dignity.  They are perilously and unconsciously destroying my world and everybody else's.  I can be deeply, profoundly disappointed with or sad about what I see going on, but I hesitate to say I'm angry.

(67)  More and more businesses are adding sustainability to their strategy for survival in the market.  But very few of these businesses have yet to understand the full and complex nature of sustainability and the need to shift our cultural models away from consumption and toward caring relationships as a means to achieve satisfaction.

(70)  The planet doesn't care which continent produces the stresses that are threatening it.  So the real question about whether our consumption-based economy is changing is whether the cultural roots of our society have changed globally.  We need a different story to explain how we operate in the world.

(83)  To be truly authentic, to realize the potential of flourishing, we need [note] a shift from a view of ourselves first from one of _Having_ to one of _Being_, and second form one of _Needing_ to one of _Caring_.

(88)  Love is not a something, but a way of acting that accepts the Being of all others as legitimate…

Chilean biologist and philosopher Humberto Maturana - someone who has had a large influence on my thinking - writes that we are fundamentally loving animals that have become separated from this basic way of accepting and interacting with the world by the forces of modern cultures.

(90)  Andrew Hoffman:  Are they [audiences] puzzled by your use of philosophical models and language to reframe sustainability around cultural change?

John Ehrenfeld:  Yes.  I'm still puzzled.  Why shouldn't they be? [laughter]
NB:  Puzzlement is uncertainty.  Uncertainty is good.  Heidigger's valley of discomfort [page 95]

(92)  Satisfaction comes not from some inner feeling, but from an assessment that what you care about is being addressed.  Satisfaction occurs in the world, not in one's body.

(93)  …the more emergent notions of leadership - like systems thinker Otto Scharmer's _Theory U_ - are completely consistent with a more reflective type of leadership.  Scharmer say that if somebody can quiet their mind, and touch their whole and authentic self, they're capable of leadership.  The tie between that kind of leadership as a way to reach sustainability-as-flourishing is self-evident to me.

(95)  AH:  You describe this sort of valley of discomfort that one has to go through, in order to become authentic.  Can you talk more about this?

JE:  That's a direct connection to my readings of Martin Heidegger, who says that authenticity springs form anxiety in the face of death.  He says that only when we accept the notion of loss or death can we make free choices.  He calls that authentic living.  Others who have followed Heidegger have argued that it's not just death, but it's the loss of identity as you shift from one domain to another.
NB:  The ordeal of change

(102)  The first important component is that the complex Earth system cannot be reduced to a set of analytic rules that both explain and predict its behavior.  Future behavior cannot be related to the present and past states of the system with any real certainty using the scientific method alone….

Chaotic situations remain chaotic until something perturbs the system and creates order, but we cannot tell in advance what the ordered system will look like.

A second important component is that the model of learning and knowledge necessary to understand sustainability in a complex system contradicts the conventional Cartesian model of cognition…

Complexity is amenable to some analysis;  it's possible to understand the basic rules that bring order to a flock of birds, but not to map the actual behavior at any instant….

A third important component is that we must replace the apparent certainty of technocratic designs with adaptive and resilient systems build on understanding that is gained by experience.  We are not Cartesian beings with a mind separate from the body for taking in and representing the world.  We learn through experiencing the world via the actions we engage in.  Humberto Maturana writes, "Learning is doing;  doing is learning"…

(103)  We have lost a great deal of our capacity to see the world in authentic and personal terms.  We see it instead through the myths of our modern culture.
NB:  Which are?

By developing an experiential viewpoint from which to understand our world, we find the truth in practice through a continuing inquiry process, and apply it to underpin and explain our successful actions.  Truth is then manifest in outcomes that work as desired.
NB:  Truth in practice

(105)  AH:  ..._Death of Nature_ by ecofeminist philosopher Carolyn Merchant.  She describes our view prior to the Enlightenment as one in which nature was the benevolent mother of all things.
NB:  Not so sure about that benevolent part

(107)  Sustainability-as-flourishing could come much faster if we moderns would put spirituality back into the place it belongs and deserves.

(109)  Pragmatism is a way of learning from past experience and also from the experience of present actions.  Finding the pragmatic truth relies on a continuous inquiry or experiment by a community of learners that ends only when the theory developed to explain the latest results successfully explains what is happening and, then and only then, is deemed to be "true."  But such truths are always contingent on and subject to being overruled by future experience.

(111)  Pragmatic thinking and acting could and would, in my opinion, open up  the possibility of flourishing, and put us on a path toward sustainability.  But we would have to kick the habit of framing everything through the lens of objective reality and the scientific method….

AH:  We can't theorize about the whole world system around us.  We have to get involved, engage, and get our hands dirty.  We have to experience nature in order to understand and care for it.  We can't just live in a totally man-made environment and read about it and theorize it.

(112)  AH:  …psychologist Karl Weick's work in which he says, "We enact the world we live in."

(119)  The right question is, "Am I hopeful?"  The answer is an absolute yes!  Playwright and first president of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel said, "Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism.  It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out."

(121)  To change how we consume, we must return relationship to the marketplace.

(123)  Common Threads is an exchange set up by Patagonia to encourage people to buy used Patagonia stuff on eBay before going to the store to buy it new.  This represents a new story, a new way of thinking, one that has business school professors scratching their heads and looking for some market-based, utilitarian rationality to explain.
NB:  LLBean and Craftsman's lifetime guarantee, "products in service"

(126)  JE:  In fact, American poet William Stanley Merwin even goes so far as to say that you can be both hopeful and pessimistic at the same time, adding, "You make a decision to be hopeful.  When you're in a lifeboat, that's not he time for your worst behavior, but for your best."

AH:  Oberlin College environmental studies professor David Orr says, "Optimism is the recognition that the odds are in your favor:  hope is the faith that things will work out whatever the odds.  Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up."

(127)  We're at 150 percent of the global carrying capacity.

(127-128)  Sustainability, as I talk about it, rests on a shift in our consciousness about who we are and a consequent realization that wealth is not the be-all and end-all.  What matters is who we are as human beings.  We don't need all the trappings of modernity to recover our humanness.  A shift in our fundamental way of thinking about the world;  how we govern, respect, and become a part of it is distinctly possible, as is any mind-set shift.  I am hopeful that we can make it, and continue to enjoy life on this planet.

(130)  [JE lives in Lexington]  We cannot flourish as isolated individuals:  we only can flourish through our connectedness to the world.

(132)  I have been involved for a year with a group at the Weatherhead Business School at Case Western Reserve on a project thinking about the role of spirituality in business and business schools.

(135)  Everyone must ask himself or herself, "What gives you the authentic and most lasting sense of well-being and fullness in your life?"  I'm convinced that when young people ask themselves that question, they will always come down to how they care for people, and how they care of the world.  So my advice would be to start there;  truly start there.

(137)  M Sandel _What Money Can't Buy:  The Moral Limits of Markets_  NY:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012

(138)  K Lewin _Resolving Social Conflicts_ NY:  Harper and Row, 1948
CO Scharmer _Theory U:  Leading from the Future as It Emerges_ SF:  Berrett-Koehler, 2009

(140)  T Jackson _Prosperity Without Growth:  Economics for a Finite Planet_ Oxford, UK:  Routledge, 2011
MA Max-Neef _Human Scale Development:  Conception, Application and Further Reflections_  Lanham, MD:  Apex, 1989

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