Can Sustainability Drive Human Flourishing?

Alan L. Johnson

I was recently reading an article in GreenBiz by Tom Bateman who is the Bank of America Management Professor at the McIntire School of Commerce, University of Virginia. In "Mastering the long haul of sustainability", he discusses something I'd never thought about in the context of sustainability:

Actualize human flourishing. "Human flourishing" is a concept that takes psychologist Abraham Maslow’s long-ago work on self-actualization to the next level. Our collective sustainability efforts reduce suffering and enhance flourishing, both human and beyond. Moreover, sustainability — the work itself, and its impact — can contribute directly to the personal flourishing of those who engage in it.

It was with this statement that I contemplated the idea of sustainability as it applies human flourishing. The National League for Nursing defines human flourishing as:

An effort to achieve self-actualization and fulfillment within the context of a larger community of individuals, each with the right to pursue his or her own such efforts. It encompasses the uniqueness, dignity, diversity, freedom, happiness, and holistic well-being of the individual within the larger family, community, and population.

The pursuit of sustainability or sustainable practices in all ways is not perfect. Just ask anyone who has ever tried to completely go without a plastic bag. Often our intentions are good, but we simply fall short. Knowing that what we are doing has a greater purpose in the world or our community leads to more positive emotions, psychological functions, and social intelligence. Doing good and a greater purpose is the drive for most in the Sustainability field.

So can sustainability drive human flourishing? You bet. Cambridge University psychologist Brian Little describes it best:

What if we thought of human flourishing as well-doing? Let’s change our goals and attention...from happiness and well-being to the activity that creates such states.

Interesting thoughts as we are what we eat, think, do, believe etc. What if by being sustainable we were able to make everyone flourish? I wonder what that world would be like.

Reality Changing Observations:

Q1. How might you change your behaviors to be more sustainable?

Q2. What are two ways that sustainability can drive flourishing?

Q3. Can you think of a few examples where you've felt like you were flourishing in your life?