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Strong Sustainability aka Flourishing: Definitions, Synonyms & Translations


Over the years we've come to recognize the strong sustainability (from macro-ecological economics), can be more attractively and aspirationally labelled as "flourishing".

Definition of Flourishing In English

Flourishing is defined here, and comes from Middle English: from Old French floriss-, lengthened stem of florir, based on Latin florere, from flos, flor- ‘a flower’. The noun senses ‘ornamental curve’ and ‘florid expression’ come from an obsolete sense of the verb, ‘adorn’ (originally with flowers).

Exploring the Origins and Use of the Idea of Flourishing

So far we had uncovered in the literature four separate streams where it appears the idea of flourishing as ultimate ideal purpose for humanity and individual humans has arisen largely independently.  Given all these are in the Western scientific tradition, they are all ultimately, albeit implicitly, pointing at Aristotle's work and in some case ideas of Siddhattha Gotama (the Buddha).  The Feminist use of flourishing is an exception, as it relies explicitly on Aristotle's work.
  1. Industrial Ecology:
    Flourishing aka sustainability-as-flourishing: "sustaining the possibility for human and all other life to flourish on this planet for seven generations and beyond"  
    • Ehrenfeld, J. R. (2000). Colorless Green Ideas Sleep Furiously: Is the Emergence of ‘Sustainable’ Practices Meaningful? Reflections, 1(4), 34–47.(John Ehrenfeld is a member of this group; this definition updated based on personal conversation between the author and Antony Upward, 6th Relating Systems-Thinking and Design Symposium, Oslo, Oct 2017)
    • Ehrenfeld, J. R. (2000). Industrial Ecology: Paradigm Shift or Normal Science? American Behavioral Scientist, 44(2), 229–244. DOI: 10.1177/0002764200044002006

  2. Positive Psychology: Flourishing as "that which makes life worthwhile"
    • Keyes, C. L. M., & Haidt, J. (2003). Introduction. In C. L. M. Keyes & J. Haidt (Eds.), Flourishing: Positive psychology and the life well lived (pp. 1–14). American Psychological Association.

  3. Appreciative Inquiry: Flourishing as the highest potential outcome of any appreciative inquiry: discover, dream, design, destiny
    • Cooperrider, D. L. (2017). The Quest for a Flourishing Earth is the Most Significant OD Opportunity of the 21st Century: How Macro OD can be the most powerful form of Micro OD. Organizational Development Review, 49(3), 42–51. Available From: drive.google.com/file/d/0B30i3w7ZW4ZMTVphVG1iNERpWEU/view
    • Cooperrider, D. L. (2019, August 15). Beyond Corporate Sustainability: Towards Full Spectrum Flourishing [Keynote talk]. Launch the Founding Forum of the Flourishing Enterprise Institute, Accelerator Centre, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada & Live Streams. www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTjqpW9oGdc 
    • Cooperrider, D. L., & Fry, R. (2012). Mirror Flourishing and the Positive Psychology of Sustainability+ (Introduction to the Special Issue on The Positive Psychology of Sustainable Enterprise). Journal of Corporate Citizenship, 46(Summer), 3–12. DOI: 10.9774/GLEAF.4700.2012.su.00002
    • Laszlo, C., Brown, J. S., Sherman, D., Barros, I., Boland, B., Ehrenfeld, J. R., Gorham, M., Robson, L., Saillant, R., & Werder, P. (2012). Flourishing: A Vision for Business and the World. Journal of Corporate Citizenship, 2012(46), 31–51. DOI: 10.9774/GLEAF.4700.2012.su.00004

  4. Feminism:Flourishing as the ultimate goal: "a world where everyone has what they need.  Being released from oppression is not the same thing as being truly liberated. To be liberated, people must have access to positive social, economic, and political conditions and resources that will give them the freedom to experience, pursue, and achieve well-being. When feminists ask what positive liberty might look like and what people free from oppression might seek, the answer is human flourishing"
    • p.20, Harquail, C. V. (2019). A primer on feminism for business. In Feminism: A Key Idea for Business and Society (pp. 14–45). Routledge.  www.cvharquail.com/feminism-book; DOI: 10.4324/9780429456503  (C.V. Harquail is a member of this group and has presented on multiple occasions)
    • Cuomo, C. J. (1998). So as to flourish: The goals of ecological feminism. In Feminism and Ecological Communities: An Ethic of Flourishing (Ch.3 pp. 62-80). Routledge.
    • Harman, G. (1983). Human Flourishing, Ethics, and Liberty. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 12(4), 307–322.  jstor.org/stable/2265376 
    • Harvey, C. (2016). Nature, Feminism, and Flourishing: Human Nature and the Feminist Ethics of Flourishing [PhD Dissertation, Marquette University].
    • Norton, D. L. (1985). Is “Flourishing” a True Alternative Ethics? Reason Papers, 10(Spring), 101–105. reasonpapers.com/pdf/10/rp_10_8.pdf
    • Snow, N. E. (2008). Virtue and Flourishing. Journal of Social Philosophy, 39(2), 225–245. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9833.2008.00425.x

  5. Eudaimonia: The highest good for human beings ,or the best of what is means to be human;  recently it has been suggested these ideas most appropriately be translated as human flourishing or prosperity
    • Aristotle. (2011). Nicomachean Ethics (J. Sachs, Trans.). Hackett Publishing, §21; 1095a15–22
    • Robinson, D. N. (1989). Aristotle’s Psychology. Columbia University Press.
    • Segall, S. Z. (2020). Buddhism and Human Flourishing: A Modern Western Perspective. Springer International Publishing. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-37027-5

Emergence of Flourishing as the Highest Possibility for Humans and Humanity

There are many ways to explore how the idea that flourishing is the highest possibility for humans and humanity is emerging into humanity's collective consciousness.  We will add to this list as we encounter more evidence.

  • Google Books - search for Flourishing in book titles - over 250 books as of May 2020 published since ~1970
  • Google Ngrams - search for Flourishing and Flourish in full text of all books in English indexed by Google since 1700 as of 2012.


Synonyms for Flourishing

There are many words that mean or imply flourishing in English. 
  • Thriving (Our  Members: Bill Baue, Ralph Thurm - R3.0 and Michelle Holliday)
  • Well-being
  • Future-Fit (Our Members Geoff Kendal - Future-Fit Foundation and Giles Hutchins)
  • Resilient
  • Regenerative
  • Integral
  • Aliveness (via Hubert Dreyfus)
  • Feminist (Our Member: C.V. Harqual)
  • Strategically sustainable (Karl Henrik-Robèrt et. al)
  • "Living within the donut" (Kate Rayworth)
  • "Sustainable Prosperity" (Peter Victor, Tim Jackson)
  • "Enough for all, forever" (Charles Hopkins)
  • "To make the world work for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone" (Buckminster Fuller)
  • >>Do you have another definition - please email our community animators to have it added here.

Translations for Flourishing

But how do we translate flourishing into other languages?  We will collect translations here.
  • In Swahili:  Kustawi  (thank-you Ondine Hogeboom, Lean for Flourishign Startups)
  • In German: Gedeihend or perhaps Florierend, as in "Florierende Geschäftsmodelle"  (thank-you Christoph Auch, EIT-Climate-KIC)
  • In Portuguese: Florescer (thank-you Simon Robinson Holonomics Education; although he noted this may not have all the same connotations as the English - perhaps more focused on growth / plants)
  • In French: S'épanouir (thank-you Julie Hamel and Eric Steadman in Montreal)
  • In French: Bien Vivir (see Spanish Buen Vivir below)
  • In Arabic: مزدهر (thank-you Fawzi Halila)
  • In Swedish: Bloomstra (thank-you Stefan Weisner; however the sense was this wasn't an exact translation - more related to flowers blooming than the multi-dimensional notion of flourishing
  • In Bulgarian: разцвет (related to blooming), or a more multi-dimensional term благоденствуващ (thank-you Maya Hoveskog)
  • In Greek: ανθηρός/ή (related to blooming) and ακμαίος/α or ακμάζων/ουσα (related to thriving) (thank-you Panos Panagiotakopoulos)
  • In Spanish: Despertar (thank-you Marie and Climate-KIC RIS Startup Accelerator Lab participants and Coaches)
  • In Spanish: Buen Vivir loosely translates "good living" or "well living" (Thank-you Claire Sommer, see this article from the Guardian)
  • In Dutch / Flemish: Floreren (thank-you Jan Detand and Koen Miseur)
  • In Italian: Fiorire (Thank-you Francesca Ostuzzi)
  • In Russian: Процветание (thank-you Fyodor Ovchinnikov - Institute for Evolutionary Leadership)
  • In Danish: Blomst ... means Flower ... and it ends up: Blomsterende ... but that is a bit 'to sweet'. Then there the word Thriving than also translate into Blomsterende ... but also Trives ... that I kind of like better - but Flourishing is just better ... not translated  (thank-you Henriette Rudi Melchiorsen)
  • In Danish: Arbedjsglaede the happiness we derive from doing something - happiness at work / good life at work (Thank-you Bill Craig)
  • In Flemish: Florerend (thank-you Inge Cools and Koen Misseur, Flemish Government Department of Environment and Land Use Planning)
  • In Norwegian:  blomstrende, livskraftig, frodig are possible direct translation for flourishing - with the same positive connotations as in English, and the Norwegian word for sustainability Bærekraft has some connotations of flourishing / strong sustainability, unlike in English where sustainability means "keep things the same" (thank-you Claus Gladyszak, Innovation Norway)
  • >>Do you have another translation - please email our community animators to have it added here.


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