1st Edition

The Right Way to Flourish Reconnecting to the Real World

By John Ehrenfeld Copyright 2020

    In this ground-breaking book, pre-eminent thought leader in the fields of sustainability and flourishing, John R. Ehrenfeld, critiques the concept of sustainability as it is understood today and which is coming more and more under attack as unclear and ineffective as a call for action. Building upon the recent work of cognitive scientist, Iain McGilchrist, who argues that the human brain’s two hemispheres present distinct different worlds, this book articulates how society must replace the current foundational left-brain-based beliefs – a mechanistic world and a human driven by self interest – with new ones based on complexity and care. Flourishing should replace the lifeless metrics now being used to guide business and government, as well as individuals. Until we accept that our modern belief structure is, itself, the barrier, we will continue to be mired in an endless succession of unsolved problems.

    1. Why now!

    2. The Power of Flourishing

    3. The Brain’s Hidden Secrets

    4. The Two Non-facts that Run Our Modern World

    5. Freeing the Right-brain: Flourishing and Context

    6. Finding the Real Me

    7. Creating Homo: The Meaning and Role of Care

    8. Navigating the Mazes of Complexity

    9. Building Institutions for Flourishing


    John Ehrenfeld retired in 2000 as the MIT Technology, Business, and Environment Program Director. After retiring, he was Executive Director of the International Society for Industrial Ecology until 2009. He is author of Sustainability by Design and co-author of Flourishing: A Frank Conversation about Sustainability.

    "The irony of our time is that, while our survival is at risk, efforts to survive are unlikely to tap the necessary imagination, creativity, and deep caring. A pioneer of rethinking industrial-era mindsets and institutions, John Ehrenfeld explores a tragically neglected question, "Who is this human who seeks to be saved?" The crisis of hope we face is really a crisis of Identity, arising from an isolated self that obscures a caring, connected self, capable of recreating a social world that nurtures rather than exploits."

    Peter Senge, Senior Lecturer, MIT.

    "This book is a radical call to reset mindsets in order to recover our empathic selves, and save our planet. At once philosophical, spiritual, and practical, the author shows why most of the current literature on business and sustainability is irrelevant, and offers a roadmap for humanity to achieve its potential."

    Geoffrey Jones, Isidor Straus Professor of Business History, Harvard Business School

    "Ehrenfeld deftly marshals brain science and psychology to produce a powerful defense of 'right-brained' thinking. Cultivating compassion, empathy, collaboration, and creativity offers a pathway to personal and collective flourishing -- a far-reaching cultural good that transcends the narow goals of sustainability."

    Jeremy Caradonna, Editor, The Routledge Handbook of the History of Sustainability

    "A path-breaking sustainability scholar, Ehrenfeld has turned his attention from technology and policy to thought-patterns and belief structures, expressing an alternative vision for society that would cure more than just our environmental ills."

    Edgar Hertwich, Professor of Industrial Sustainability, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

    "Ehrenfeld reframes what it means to be human. Flourishing is a continuing process of living life to its fullest. It points us away from static notions of wellness. Instead we enter a world that serves everyone and all life, with science-based insights into what it takes to get there."

    Chris Laszlo, PhD, Professor, Case Western Reserve University, and author of Quantum Leadership: New Consciousness in Business

    "If you want to go deep on sustainability, read this book by John Ehrenfeld and learn to think about Flourishing. John is, and always has been, a touchstone for addressing the root causes of our environmental and social challenges as a society, and I am grateful to have another opportunity to learn from this wise man in this latest book."

    Andrew J. Hoffman, Holcim (US) Professor of Sustainable Enterprise, Ross School of Business/SEAS, University of Michigan.

    "In clear prose and careful, concise analysis, John Ehrenfeld points us to the root causes of what ails us and proposes that we shift our sights to the farther horizon beyond mere sustainability. Flourishing is a wise, accessible, and important treatise with major implications that range from the personal to large organizations. Very highly recommended."

    David Orr, Author, Dangerous Years: Climate Change, the Long Emergency, and the Way Forward.

    "If you are at all interested in improving education – for yourself or for others – then this is the book you must read and absorb. It will give you a radical - in the original sense of the word - insight into how to improve your thinking as we all engage in the foundational work John so artfully and scientifically articulates for us in this extraordinary story: how to fulfill the promise that "human and other life will flourish on the planet forever"."

    Ron Nahser, Provost Emeritus, Presidio Graduate School.


    "The Right Way to Flourish", a roadmap to human and planetary flourishing through avenues of care. Ehrenfeld demonstrates that personal wholeness requires attention to everything we are connected to, and flourishing is intimately tied to how one relates to the world. Care is the bridge between the two, and building that bridge Ehrenfeld argues ... will take both heart and brain."

    Lori Pye, President, Viridis Graduate Institute


    "Ehrenfeld once again pushes us to think more boldly and foundationally.This book raises flourishing as not only a collective goal of society, but a deeply individual and personal journey."

    Michael Lenox, Tayloe Murphy Professor of Business, Darden School of Business


    "Those who have been engaged in Industrial Ecology for a while recognize John Ehrenfeld to be an exceptional leader and intellectual powerhouse within the field.... Ehrenfeld argues with his latest book that in order to solve the wicked, complex environmental and social challenges of the modern world we need more - a lot more - right-brained people. That is, broad-minded, oganic thinkers who are vigilant and caring. Of course, summary doesn't do the book justice. It is far deeper than tha. Ehrenfeld provides a rich synthesis of ideas from neurosicence, philosophy, psychology, and sociology - with a good dose of spirituality - in arriving at his prognosis. The route to flourishing he offers, moreover, involves no less than a substantial rebalancing of western, Cartesian, scientific thought.

    An important final comment: while the book covers a wide range of advanced topics, it is very readable. It is short and concise, skillfully written, and has a clear, logical structure. I would end by giving the book "five stars", but that might be a little too left-brain. Better to say, perhaps, it provides evidence that Ehrenfeld at least is surely flourishing."

    Christopher Kennedy, excerpt from book review published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, Wiley