The Real World Beyond Sustainability

In episode 158 of the Futurized podcast, the topic is: The Real World Beyond Sustainability. Our guest is Dr. John R. Ehrenfeld, industrial ecology pioneer, ex-MIT researcher, and author. Futurized is a bi-weekly show, preparing YOU to think about how to deal with the next decade’s disruption, so you can succeed and thrive no matter what happens. Make sure you are subscribed to our newsletter on, where you can find hundreds of episodes of conversations that matter to the future. Futurized—conversations that matter.

In this conversation, we talk about how reducing unsustainability still does not create whatever it is we agree should be sustained and how the significant problems must be attacked at the roots, not merely at the level of symptom, by taking up a normative worldview he calls flourishing. We discuss his recent book, The Right Way to Flourish: Reconnecting with the Real World, Routledge, 2019, which deserves a wide audience for its deeply considered vision of a new paradigm beyond the eco-efficiency implicit in how most of us currently understand sustainability. We discuss a number of thought leaders, including philosophers such as Martin Heidegger, and neuroscientist and psychiatrist Ian McGilchrist.


Trond’s takeaway

After it gained prominence with the Brundtland report in the late 1980s, Sustainability quickly became defined and operationalized as eco-efficiency without considering the important question of what it is that we want to sustain in the first place. That was convenient both for policy makers and for corporations, and was alluring to consumers, too, but it is ultimately misguided. Instead, we need to embrace a different, more ambitious paradigm which contains within it a normative vision for a better future, not just a form of managed ecological decline.

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If you like this topic, you may enjoy other episodes of Futurized, such as episode 52, The Future of Peer-to-Peer, episode 14, Post-pandemic Tech, or episode 3, The Remaking of Transportation. Hopefully, you’ll find something awesome in these or other episodes. If so, do let us know by messaging us, we would love to share your thoughts with other listeners.

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