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A Frank Conversation about Sustainability

This astonishing book invites you into a conversation between a teacher, John R. Ehrenfeld, and his former student now professor, Andrew J. Hoffman, as they discuss how to create a sustainable world. Unlike virtually all other books about sustainability, this one goes beyond the typical stories that we tell ourselves about repairing the environmental damages of human progress.

Through their dialogue and essays that open each section, the authors uncover two core facets of our culture that drive the unsustainable, unsatisfying, and unfair social and economic machines that dominate our lives. First, our collective model of the way the world works cannot cope with the inherent complexity of today's highly connected, high-speed reality. Second, our understanding of human behavior is rooted in this outdated model. Driven by the old guard, sustainability has become little more than a fashionable idea. As a result, both business and government are following the wrong path – at best applying temporary, less unsustainable solutions that will fail to leave future generations in better shape.

To shift the pendulum, this book tells a new story, driven by being and caring, as opposed to having and needing, rooted in the beauty of complexity and arguing for the transformative cultural shift that we can make based on our collective wisdom and lived experiences. Then, the authors sketch out the road to a flourishing future, a change in our consumption and a new approach to understanding and acting.

There is no middle ground; without serious change at the most basic level, we will continue to head down a false path. Indeed, this book is a clarion call to action. Candid and insightful, it leaves readers with cautious hope.

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'

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, Co-founder of ENDS, SustainAbility and Volans; author of 'The Zeronauts: Breaking the Sustainability Barrier'

These are unexpectedly deep and moving conversations about where we can go, and where we must go, both as individuals and as a planet. This book is a hardheaded account of the sacredness of the earth, and what that implies for our work and society.

Bill McKibben, author of 'Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet'

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.

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.

James Gustave Speth, author of 'America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy'

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'


1. Introduction

Part I. Clarifying the issue

2. Sustainability means nothing without an end in sight

3. The myths of our modern culture

4. The wrong-headed solutions of corporate sustainability

5. More is not better

Part II. Living with a different story

6. Reexamining what it means to be human

7. Returning to our place in the whole

Part III. Looking to the future

8. Reasons to be hopeful

Recommended readings and bibliography

About the authors


JOHN R. EHRENFELD is the author of Sustainability by Design: A Subversive Strategy for Transforming our Consumer Culture. ANDREW J. HOFFMAN is Holcim Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan. 

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