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"Thrivability is our path out of unsustainable practices toward a world where all people have a high quality of life, a voice, and a nurturing earth supporting them. Using whole systems approach, it demands that we evolve our way of being together, of collaborating, so that our collective wisdom and action bring forth a flourishing world and thriving life."


Jean Russell

Interview in Worldchanging:

Jon Lebkowsky: Let's start with the definition of thrivability I found at, that it's "our path out of unsustainable practices toward a world where all people have a high quality of life, a voice, and a nurturing earth supporting them. Using whole systems approach, it demands that we evolve our way of being together, of collaborating, so that our collective wisdom and action bring forth a flourishing world and thriving life." What's the origin of this definition, and what led you to start thinking about "thrivability" vs sustainability?

Jean Russell: At a Recent Changes Camp in Portland Oregon in 2006 I had a powerful two-hour conversation with Jair. I have not stayed connected to him, but in that conversation he mentioned the word thrivability. And it took hold of me for several reasons. Jair and I share a connection to Tom Munnecke, and I had been engaged in conversations with Tom on the community. Tom wrote about solution-focus, positive deviance and other ideas that informed my concepts of thrivability. So I chewed and chewed on the idea, starting a blog to track my explorations.

This definition of thrivability evolved from that blog. Because this was so alive for me, I would talk with people about it wherever I went. And so I really feel that the idea is less mine and more the ideas of people who have shared with me. It is also strongly informed by the three years of conversations on I came to the space as a writer focused on philanthropy, but while there I learned about such a wide variety of elements of social benefit work. I let my curiosity lead me, and the great wisdom of many there guide me. So, for me, thrivability is the umbella that holds all of these efforts -- it speaks to the unified whole of our efforts and the world those efforts aspires to.

I have puzzled over the connection between sustainability and thrivability. When I started the thrivability blog, I wondered if it was simply a language shift or if there was something deeper. Thanks to the network of people involved in the conversation, I feel clearer now than I did in '07. If we drew a Venn diagram of the two, there is significant overlap. A lot of the work done under the umbrella of sustainability totally fits the concept of thrivability too. It is less that the actions are significantly different as much as the approach and aspiration is different. The language of sustainability is about neutralizing. Thrivability is about succeeding.

An example can help. If we ask, when building a home, "what isn't sustainable here?" then we get a list of what we could do to make the house sustainable: maybe it says something about the materials we use and how the energy flows. If we are innovative, it also includes water flows and a green roof. If we ask instead, "what would make this home thrivable?" I want thrivable materials and thrivable energy. But I also want thrivable design -- how do the living creatures of the home move through it? And while putting in a green roof, did we make it something that can be a garden? Did we consider the interior lighting of the house -- not only for heating and cooling, but also for seasonal affective disorder? How does the house play together in the ecology of the neighborhood? Who works to build it? Are their lives more thrivable for having created the house? What else is an input/output or otherwise impacted by this house -- and how can that be thrivable? Do you see how the shift from problem-focus to solution-focus includes the strategies employed in addressing the problem but also goes further?

JL: I understand the difference between the two, but it seems to me that you could have a 'thrivability' that isn't sustainable, or that diminishes the sustainability of related or dependent systems. Would it make more sense to talk about "sustainable thrivability"?

JR: I think Arthur Brock points to the answer quite well. He recently wrote:

- 'Thrivability builds on itself. It is a cycle of actions which reinvest energy for future use and stretch resources further. It transcends sustainability by creating an upward spiral of greater possibilities and increasing energy. Each cycle builds the foundation for new things to be accomplished.

Thrivability emerges from the persistent intention to create more value than you consume. When practiced over time this builds a world of ever increasing possibilities.

Thrivability already includes what is meant by sustainability. And it goes beyond it. To say sustainable thrivability in some way limits it, in fact. Think of life forming on Earth -- to sustain single celled organisms is one thing -- to transcend that and create multi-cellular organisms in another. The earth has conspired for life to thrive, creating upward spirals, building resources, and evolving greater complexity.'

It was Arthur who first pointed out to me that the last few hundred years of consuming resources might have been just what the earth required for us to transcend this way and move to the next form of interaction, the next level of complexity." (

Lonny Grafman

Lonny Grafman is the president of the Appropedia Foundation.

Interview by Todd Hoskins:

" I think that sustainability has a common connotation, especially in poor communities, that we are sustaining the status quo. Or at the maximum trying to be zero impact – minimizing our footprint. I see thrivability as engendering a sense that we are trying to go past minimizing our impact, instead aiming for a positive impact. Sustainability is about conserving resources and thrivability is about savoring them.

Todd: How does “savoring” fit into thrivability?

Lonny: Conserving is about limiting the use of our resources because it is the right thing to do. Savoring is about really enjoying the use of our resources, because it is, well, enjoyable. Access to dependable energy, clean water, healthy food, fun and connected transportation, etc… is incredible. We should all be so lucky to have it. And by lucky, I mean work hard to secure it.

Todd: What reasons do you have to be optimistic about our future? Why should we be positive?

Lonny: Every day I am surrounded by people making their world better for themselves and their descendants… striving to be better neighbors and ancestors while enjoying an improved quality of life. So it is easy for me to be optimistic because of the nature of my work. Be what you want - positive, negative or otherwise – but be part of a set of solutions." L

More Information is a solution-focused, collective space for learning, connecting, and evolving thrivable awareness and possibility.