I problems and the barriers to change we

I have chosen to
review Flourishing: A frank conversation about sustainability John R. Ehrenfeld
and Andrew J. Hoffman. This book takes a refreshingly new approach to looking
at sustainability and was very different from what I was expecting when I began

It is written by
Andrew J. Hoffman and primarily based off the work of John R Ehrenfeld. It
takes an unusual approach to explaining his ideas, he writes his ideas and adds
in a conversation between the two men, talking about the book and john’s views
on other topics. This greatly helps to explain some of the more difficult to
explain concepts. He uses quotes from famous philosophers and poets and links
them to sustainability which really helps deliver his message


The book is divided
into three sections:

Clarifying the
issue (which deals with what he views as the problems and the barriers to
change we currently face)
Living with a
different story (which deals with his views on how to overcome these
Looking to
the future (explains why he is ‘hopeful’ about the future)


The introduction
presents the world as he sees it, looking at social economic and environmental
issues with a significant amount of pessimism in the frame of sustainability.
Part of the problem is that sustainability is a meaningless word on its own and
for this reason it is so often misunderstood and interpreted depending on who
is using it and for what purpose. Often it is used for economic gain, using
words like ‘green’ to sell products. Instead he brings in the image of
flourishing as a replacement for sustainability He believes the current approach
to “sustainability” are while they are a step in the right direction and
understand the environmental limits they are still not enough and we need to
move away from the belief that doing the same thing just more efficiently will
work and take things further from simply trying to reduce or impact on the
problem to reversing the damage.  The
current approach is heavily influenced by sustainable development but He is
critical of this as it is an economic idea.


He suggests that
we should strive for more than just maintaining the status que for as long as possible.
Which is where sustainability as flourishing comes from. He describes it this modification
to the standard sustainability as ‘adds a cultural meaningful end to our act of
sustaining; we strive for a context in which all life can flourish’ (7) His
idea of sustainability as flourishing is perfect for what we want, we want to
not only be able to continue living on this planet but to be happy and prosper.
He opens this up to all aspects of life not just environmental which I had
previously thought sustainability was all about.


He believes a paradigm
shift on par with the renaissance and industrial revolution is needed. We need
to change the way we view ourselves and the world around us. Dealing with a
problem in the same mindset we had when we created the problem will never work.

One of the things
holding us back from sustainability as flourishing is our culture. We have a
culture of materialism. We view or worth on how much money or ‘things’ we own. We
put more value on having things than our moral values. progress is measured in
GDP and growth. But this is not true progress. As he says, ‘more is not better’.
People lose focus of what is important following the “American dream”. This
isolates us and causes more problems. He points out the folly of putting on all
our value in physical things, while losing moral values. he believes we allow
ourselves to be dominated by economic structures and social structures, and by
allowing ourselves to be dominated by certain ways of thinking we are unable to
see other ways of thinking. We need to open our eyes to other ways of thinking
if we ever want to see real change.


Distrust of economists
and other social scientists is a recurring issue in the book. This is partly ‘as
they’re experiments are very different from that of a physics’, yet they still
make their models and predictions. These models are rarely the truth or at
least not the whole truth. this deception is dangerous, as our society needs
truths not convenient half-truths. Economists tend to put growth over all other
values, values that are being lost because of it. And this leads to a culture
where unsustainability thrives

At various points in the book he suggests that spiritualty may have a
role to play in reforming the way we look at our relationships with the world. While he does make some
interesting points especially his own views on spirituality, I am not convinced
religion can be used for a positive force for change as he is. As from what I have
seen, these institutions are slow to let go of past beliefs and embrace new
ones. Having said that, I do agree that we need to adjust our moral values and
live more authentically


I found it
interesting on how skeptical his views were on technology, while many others
believe it is our answer to global warming, he has a distrust for technology as
it is sometimes built on ‘incomplete knowledge’ and ends up being more harmful
than beneficial in the long run. He cites CFC’s as his example for his scientism
which is hard to argue with. Our advances in technology is partly to blame for
getting us into our current situation so it is fair to say that it is unlikely
to be a permanent solution more likely will only cause unintended consequences.


A major focus in
this book is the role of businesses. He calls them out for either not doing
anything or poorly dealing with our current sustainability crisis. Criticizing ‘corporate
sustainability. Believing their efforts to be misguided at best. ‘… they have got
it mostly or completely wrong'(50)



He is very
concerned with what he views as the loss of human connection due to ‘mega
stores’ like Walmart replacing the traditional corner shop. While this change
does certainly rob us of an ever more important human connection in this
changing world, and many of their practices are certainly morally questionable,
however they also provide, in my mind one of the fastest means for change. If they
were to incorporate the idea of sustainability as flourishing, they could be
huge drivers of change by influencing the suppliers and customers like the
Ikeas of the world.


On a more personal
level, he believes that everyone needs to move from ‘having to being, and from needing
to caring’ in order to live more authentic lives. It is only with more
authentic actions and beliefs that we can bring about the changes needed to
allow for flourishing. If everyone stopped pointing the figure of responsibility
and did their bit to improve the world and allow for flourishing we would be
making great strides towards the vision of flourishing outlined in this book.


Although he brings
up many of his concerns and outlines the challenges we need to overcome he ends
the book on a message of hope. ‘I hold out hope for the future. The culture is
changing albeit slowly, to acting through and living by a new story’ (125) in
this final chapter her goes on to outline some of the cases where companies are
actively demonstrating his idea of sustainability as flourishing


While this book
was very enlightening, I felt it was a very much focusing on America, (what’s,
being done there, what needs to change, the barriers to change etc.), but
sustainability is a global issue and what might work there may not necessarily
work in other countries. It is not fair to hold developing countries to the
same standard in terms of growth and GDP as developed countries. I do see the
importance of America needing to take the lead on many of these issues but Some
of his solutions I felt were a little overly optimistic, if not naïve. The solution
cannot solely come from one country or we risk moving the problem from one
country to another. Resulting in no real change. Just like when the coal industry
moved from England to India china.


This book has
highlighted a new way of looking at a vast many thing, things I hadn’t even
thought much about before and some problems that I had but in a new light. I had
previously thought of sustainability as more of an environmental issue, however
I now see its social and economic implications.  His views on the current situation are very
bleak and demands drastic changes in all areas, while he backs up this case very
well and I find it difficult to find any flaws in his thinking. It will take
time for me to thoroughly think through what his a proposed and come up with my
own conclusion. As the book say’s “a claim of knowledge is a demand for
obedience.’ (37)  But if nothing else
this book has encouraged me to learn more and expand my understanding.


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