Is slowing down unsustainable practices enough? Not according to a retired MIT professor and a University of Michigan professor. Trashing the environment at a slower rate is not the same as improving the environment. Not even close. To clarify the difference, I recommend reading Flourishing: A Frank Conversation About Sustainability (Stanford Business Books, 2013). Long-standing voice for sustainability John Ehrenfeld and his co-author Andrew Hoffman take a strong stand on what is sustainable behavior and what is not.
While acknowledging the benefit of reducing the behaviors that wildly deteriorate the environment, the authors argue that reducing a negative is not the same thing as increasing a positive. Throwing fewer pollutants into the water is still polluting, and is not the same as throwing no pollutants in the water. They find that green-washing language in many businesses today obscures the fact that the business’ actions are not increasing positive-sustainability as much as reducing negative-unsustainability.
Ehrenfeld defines sustainability as, “the possibility that humans and other life will flourish on the Earth forever.” To point at the major problems with current ways of greening sustainability, Ehrenfeld and Hoffman focus on the cultural myth of perpetual growth, and on many of the corporate social responsibility solutions that are wrong-headed, at best reducing unsustainability. They suggest that to refocus on increasing positive-sustainability will require that people start by re-examining what it means to be human – what we are and what we want – and where humans are within the whole of the social and natural world.
What is the Ecosynomic lens on this story? Trying to reduce unsustainable practices only at the “things-outcome” level of perceived reality does not necessarily change the unsustainable practices at the “development-motion” level of reality, which sooner than later generates the things-level problem. Furthermore, when we are not working and being more sustainable simultaneously at all three levels of perceived reality (possibility, development, things), we are not realizing a more sustainable world, rather we are fighting the unsustainable things-world we are realizing. Said another way, if we imagine an unsustainable world at the possibility level, through our beliefs and myths, and we bring it into being at the development level, then no matter how hard we fight it at the things level, the unsustainable world will continue to show up. To change this, we therefore need to change how we see a sustainable world in all three levels of reality – in possibility, in development, and in things. To do this, we need to see (1) how we perceive the experiences and outcomes we desire through the five primary relationships, and (2) how to change our agreements to achieve these experiences and outcomes. Our free on-line survey is a tool for looking at how sustainable your agreements are, and the Ecosynomics framework shows how to see and choose the new agreements. The hopeful news is that it is possible to envision and enact a sustainable world, and that we have identified tens of thousands of communities and businesses that are doing just that.