John Ehrenfeld

Sustainability has gone 'mainstream'

Sarah Jane Silva

MScSM holds its third annual Sustainability Leaders’ Series featuring John Ehrenfeld

Last Monday, John Ehrenfeld, MIT professor emeritus and long-time sustainability scholar, reflected that, in order to address sustainability fully and meaningfully, we must make fundamental shifts in the way we think. 

“The real challenge for you all here tonight is to figure out how to change our cultural structures so unsustainability doesn’t happen in the first place, because once it happens it’s almost impossible to fix it up.”

Ehrenfeld argued that sustainability has become an empty concept. Businesses might be very busy with myriad initiatives, but if actual results fall short, are they really sustainable?

“I’ve spent a lot of my years learning what sustainability is, promoting it, helping develop the idea but I think the word has sort of lost its original intent.”

Referring to their capacity to lead transformational change, he invited MScSM students, staff, faculty and community members to consider that, in the face of opposition, an individual can always change his or her own worldview.

“We can’t seem to get out of our own way so we have to try something different.”

As Ehrenfeld and Andrew Hoffman point out in their book, Flourishing: A Frank Conversation about Sustainability, sustainability has real meaning only if it achieves stability of the planet’s climate and ecosystems.

It’s about the world we all want, not the world we just get by in.

About the MScSM Sustainability Leaders' Series

The Sustainability Leaders’ Series is an annual lecture series offered by the Institute for Management & Innovation’s MScSM program. It features accomplished leaders and advocates that inform and inspire many with messages of hope and direction for the creation of a sustainable future. Their experiences and speaking subjects cover all aspects of environmental management and sustainable development.

Everyone who attended the lecture series received free copies of Ehrenfeld’s and Hoffman’s aforementioned book, as well as Ehrenfeld’s Sustainability by Design: A Subversive Strategy for Transforming our Consumer Culture, courtesy of the MScSM program. The evening also featured poster presentations from the graduating Class of 2018, which showcased their summer internships with leading employers in the sustainability industry.