- Paperback: 144 pages
- Publisher: Stanford Business Books; 1 edition (May 15, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0804784159
- ISBN-13: 978-0804784153
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #356,073 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Flourishing: A Frank Conversation About Sustainability 1st Edition
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"This is a deeply illuminating conversation between two sustainability thought leaders on whom I wish I had been able to eavesdrop. Now, happily and inspirationally, we all can." (John Elkington)
"John Ehrenfeld's thinking about our species and our place in the world is indeed a thing of beauty, as Andrew Hoffman's intelligent dialogue with him brings out on every page. If you're tired of stale books on 'sustainability,' read this for new insight and inspiration." (James Gustave Speth author of America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy)
"The most a dangerous time for any radical idea is when it becomes popular and people assume that because they embrace the idea they are 'doing it.' The window is closing for consciously altering the trajectory of global industrial expansion. There are no simple answers, but there are core questions and critical actions to take. In Flourishing, these are clearly illuminated by John Ehrenfeld and Andy Hoffman, two of the most experienced and thoughtful leaders in the sustainability movement." (Peter M. Senge MIT, Society for Organizational Learning, Author of The Fifth Discipline, and Co-Author of Presence, and The Necessary Revolution)
"A fresh, daring look at sustainable business. It takes no prisoners and does not try to please―it simply tells the brutal truth." (Joel Makower, Chairman and Executive Editor GreenBiz Group Inc.)
"For those who are familiar with Ehrenfeld and Hoffman's arguments, the conversational approach in this book develops nuances that take key messages about sustainability and flourishing to a new level. Those not yet familiar are also in for a treat with this easy-to-read, yet critically important manifesto." (Jennifer Howard-Grenville University of Oregon and author of Corporate Culture and Environmental Practice: Making Change at a High-Technology Manufacturer)
"These are unexpectedly deep and moving conversations about where we can go, and where we must go, both as individuals and as a planet. It's a hardheaded account of the sacredness of the earth, and what that implies for our work and society." (Bill McKibben)
About the Author
John R. Ehrenfeld is a long-standing and influential voice in the sustainability debate. He was Director of the MIT Program on Technology, Business, and Environment. From 2000-2009, he served as Executive Director of the International Society for Industrial Ecology. He continues to do research, write, and teach, most recently at several emerging MBA for Sustainability programs. He is the author of Sustainability by Design: A Subversive Strategy for Transforming our Consumer Culture. Andrew J. Hoffman is the Holcim (US) Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan. He serves as Director of the Frederick A. and Barbara M. Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise. Hoffman is co-editor of The Oxford Handbook on Business and the Natural Environment, author of Builder's Apprentice: A Memoir, and co-author of Memo to the CEO: Climate Change, What's Your Business Strategy?
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JE sometimes comes up with some very apt "sound-bite" formulations, such as the Brundtland report characterization above, or that "[T]he prevailing belief that I am what I own stands firmly in the way of any sort of redistribution" (sc. from rich nations to poorer ones, @72). He brings critiques of consumption down to earth when he notes tersely that "Consumption is an essential part of life. Amoebas consume. All life consumes."(Id.) But the frequency of such verbal nuggets, and of practical illustrations, tapers out a bit toward the end of the book, where the the level of the discussion tends to be quite philosophical and general. I concede, though, that maybe one reason the book takes that turn is to provide a salutary shock to some readers, by demonstrating that an MIT engineer who advises businesses can nonetheless consider philosophy to be very important.
I found myself in agreement with JE far more often than not. But I confess he began to lose me when he emphasized the contributions of Martin Heidegger to his view, including crediting Heidegger as the pioneer of bringing Caring into philosophy (@89). Heidegger joined the Nazi Party in 1933, remained a member throughout the Second World War, never expressed regret for his involvement, and indeed was still writing in an ultra-nationalistic, Nazi-era rhetorical style more than decade after the war ended. To be fair, the work of Heidegger on which JE relies, "Being and Time," was written in the late 1920s, and JE mentions that he himself is Jewish and that Heidegger is "controversial." Nonetheless, it was a bit discomfiting to read his paraphrase of Heidegger to the effect that "who we are ... is determined by the culture we live in. ... Each human being becomes whoever they are by learning from and existing within a culture that embodies and endows that human being with the knowledge of the world that it takes to live effectively. To me [i.e., JE], that is getting to the essence of sustainability-as-flourishing." (@26.) Decontextualized from the rest of Heidegger's life perhaps this can sound benign or insightful, but it's hard to forget that Heidegger clearly believed that one particular culture was superior to all others. There is a faint from-the-sublime-to-the-ridiculous echo of the Heidegger/"Caring" dissonance when JE elsewhere describes "fishing as love" (@8). JE always releases (at least some of) the fish he catches -- but instead of painfully hooking them, pulling them out of the water and suffocating them for a while, and then tossing them back in wounded and terrified, wouldn't it be at least as loving simply to leave the fish alone? Or does the lovingness consist in helping the fish experience the "authenticity [that] springs from anxiety in the face of death," another paraphrase from Heidegger (@95)?
There was one point that troubled me even more, however: the discussion of the title word itself. Andrew Hoffman, JE's interlocutor and former student, characterizes the word 'flourishing' as "unusual" in his introduction (@6), and later asks JE "Where did you get the word, flourishing?" JE replies it "just kind of came up. ... It popped up first during an exercise at a personal training session where I was asked to express an important personal vision." (@22.) And a few pages later he refers to the ideas of "Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen [who] argues that well-being (or flourishing, as I write) requires the availability of a set of basic capabilities ... ." (@32.)
I don't for a moment doubt JE's sincerity that he independently lit upon the word in the way he described. But to say "as I write," while discussing Sen, of all people? The capabilities approach to well-being has been based on a notion that's been called "human flourishing" since at least the 1980s. As developed by Sen and philosopher Martha Nussbaum, it's *far* more prominent in social science than are JE's ideas, with all due respect. Moreover, the word was picked as a translation of the ancient Greek word "eudaimonia," which (along with related grammatical forms) was used by many authors to connote a true happiness -- most prominently by Aristotle, whose sense of the word in his Nicomachean Ethics is the one Sen and Nussbaum follow. Neither Aristotle, nor Nussbaum, nor the widespread use of "flourishing" in the literature on well-being are mentioned in this book. (JE's 2009 "Sustainability by Design," which also talks about flourishing quite a bit, omits both Sen and Nussbaum, and discusses Aristotle's Nic.Eth. without mentioning eudaimonia at all.) If JE's nuance is to include all of nature, and not just humans, under the term "flourishing," then the book could simply say so, while acknowledging the earlier use of the term. At best, this book's origin story about "flourishing" is symptomatic of the way it overemphasizes the uniqueness of JE's thought, without seeming fully aware of just how much work has been done by others along the same lines (namely, lots more than is suggested by JE's passing references to Herman Daly, Tim Jackson, Juliet Schor and Richard Heinberg).
Some of this lack of historical perspective might be related to the book's being published under Stanford U. Press's business book imprint. I also suppose it was the SUP editor, or lack of same, who failed to catch that Adam Smith's ideas weren't "put forward ... nearly four hundred years ago" (@41), but less than 250 years ago. In sum: JE seems like a very interesting person with whom to have a conversation. He makes many well-aimed remarks about why sustainability as currently practiced is useless and hypocritical, especially in the earlier chapters. But the high level of generality in the latter half of the book makes it seem targeted more to MBAs who aren't used to thinking about the big picture, than to readers who are looking for a practical vision of how to get off the unsustainable path we're stuck on.