the regeneration economy

The regeneration economy is the next big thing in sustainability – except it is out to replace the whole idea of sustainability altogether. It argues that sustainability is a limited concept because a. you can’t sustain what you have already destroyed b. keeping going what were already doing isn’t going to solve our problems c. it’s not ambitious enough in terms of the potential impact – why just sustain when you can flourish?

I’m going to be exploring the ideas and the examples on my blog, and thinking how I can update my tools and incorporate them into our process as we design regenerative enterprises, organisations and programs. Please engage with me if you share this interest. Meanwhile, let’s look at what’s already out there.

The regeneration economy brings places, people and cultures back to life.

Regeneration enterprises are the organisations that achieve it. There’s not a set of universally agreed principles that describe how these organisations and this economic model achieves regeneration, but there are four overarching themes:

  1. Design thinking – it is big and its everywhere, applied more broadly than ever. Design is intentional – we actively design our organisation and our future rather than just let things happen.
  2. Holistic understanding – the regeneration economy emerged out of systems theory. Rather than breaking things down into little pieces, it argues that instead we should understand the whole and how the parts interact, rather than looking at one part in isolation.
  3. Ecologically derived – principles of regenerative economies and organisations are learnt through understanding how organisms, ecosystems and societies regenerate and flourish.
  4. Place-based – design is done in response to a particular place, the issues and opportunities that are present there.

There’s some catchy ideas like “going with the flow” and feedback loops, and regenerative design successfully incorporates other ideas about strengthening society, such as co-creation, resilience and health (no doubt there will soon be a resilience lab as well). If you want to get up to speed on the concept, here’s the key texts:

The publishing of Lyle’s Regenerative Design for Sustainable Development in 1994 was the first recent contribution, but was not widely known (still a classic through).

For those familiar with permaculture, the concepts of regeneration will feel very familiar. Australia’s own nature-informed, systems-based design process has been working with these ideas for a while. A good intro is Bill Holmgreen’s seminal 2002 Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability.

The ideas in Lyle’s book where drawn on in the popular Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make things by McDonough in 2002, although I think in some ways this book is a more limited approach. There’s a couple of books and organisations that have really kicked things off lately and created momentum around the concept:

Designing Regenerative Cultures (2016) by Daniel Wahl, a German buddhist, provides a vision for how we can regenerate our society in the face of current crises.

The think-tank the Capital Institute, together with its founder John Fullerton, is probably the leading promoter of the concept today. He has produced the key test 2015’s Regenerative Capitalism: How Universal Principles and Patterns will Shape our New Economy  and the online Field Guide to a Regenerative Economy

We can use the universal principles and patterns underlying stable, healthy, and sustainable living and nonliving systems throughout the real world as a model for economic-system design – Fullerton.

It’s also interesting to see how the ideas having informed, and even originated in built environment design. I’ll finished with this article by HMC architects pulls no punches. According to them:

sustainability was a concept that failed on launch and simply should have never been

Imagine applying these ideas underdeveloped communities and degraded landscapes in the tropics – to regenerate endangered cultures, revitalise worn down places and create better futures. It’s exciting right? If so, please get in touch.

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