As our climate is heating up, businesses and policy-makers across the world announce they are stepping up sustainable action. Yet, destruction of ecosystems and communities accelerate at a time of an ongoing global pandemic. Business models continue to be centered around shareholder value and extractive practices. Against that background, the new book “Rethinking Sustainability Towards a Regenerative Economy“ offers vital and concrete regenerative alternatives in urbanism, construction and the broader circular economy. Instead of doing less harm, we should now focus on “doing more good” for people and planet.

We are now asking deeper questions, questions we would not have thought to ask earlier in 2020. We are seeking better understanding on the relationships between individual, community, ecological and planetary health.”

The thought-provoking book invites architects, engineers, practitioners, researchers, businesses and policy-makers to embark on the journey to become regenerators of our economy. Instead of running after solutions to limited questions, the authors invite us the change our perspective on solving our contemporary systemic crises. As stated, “amid this rupture lies an opportunity, a wake-up call that provides us with a unique opportunity for re-evaluation and reimagining, for looking forward, for healing the future and to stop adding further layers of codes and legislation that only solve the last crisis and not prepare us for our future.”

While laws and standards are relevant for accompanying change, the authors raise the issue of the need to re-design our economic system first. Only after doing that, appropriate legislative, fiscal and other tools may be used to accompany the transition to a regenerative economy. As we had also shown with our #Regenerate21 series on Regenerative Approaches to the Challenges of the 21st century, we have to change perspective on our current reality. This involves reimagining, redesigning and practicing a life-affirming economy. Within a regenerative economy, every business act contributes to the health and well-being of communities and natural ecosystems.

This is a vastly different design approach than trying to become better each year at producing less waste, using less energy and recycling more. To clarify the challenge with today’s approach to sustainability, the book reveals the mechanistic, (profit) growth-obsessed and narrow logic of today’s ESG, CSR and many circularity or sustainability initiatives:

“Climate crisis is real. Building and Construction is responsible for the greatest amount of CO2 emissions when compared to other sectors. We live for 90% of our time (and more, during the pandemic lockdown) indoor. The refurbishment of the huge European building stock is our hidden oil and next huge opportunity. Materials Transparency matters. Water as a precious resource. Waste as a resource. Reduce, reuse, recycle. The Circular Economy. Nearly Zero Energy buildings, and then Zero Energy, and then Zero Carbon, or even Energy/Carbon positive. And everything will not be the same as before, after Covid-19 …

How many times did we hear about these quotes? Isn’t it the indicator of something insufficient or even wrong with our current concept of sustainability? Is sustainability adequate, as a framework to manage the gigantic climate challenge we are urgently called to address?”

Today, 90% of global resources end up as waste. Yet, political and business ambitions suggest that, by investing in “clean tech”, businesses will soon produce in circular ways with less emissions, solving our climate crisis. Besides growing energy needs for electrifying and digitizing energy and upscaling recycling infrastructure, it is doubtful if we can become circular fast enough. The regenerative approach invites us to challenge the nature of innovation inherent in today’s sustainability responses.

By looking at nature’s (including humans) patterns, cycles and rhythms, we can learn to create better conditions for economic, natural and social life to thrive. For the first time in history, there is now more human-made matter (technosphere) than biomass on the planet. With more and more monocultures, also of single-tree forests to combat climate change. Investing more into concrete, technology and easy fixes will only accelerate this destructive trend. Instead, regenerative innovation can help us re-design production cycles, community life and systemic impact in a way in tune with nature and life. Bio-based materials, living-systems design for housing or health-boosting infrastructure count among the innovation examples cited in the book.

Find a free PDF copy of the book Rethinking Sustainability Towards a Regenerative Economy” here

From Sustainability to Regeneration
Typology explained in the book

Sustainability was defined as minimising and eliminating impact, the bridging point between not doing less bad and starting to do ‘more good’. It was Yvon Chouinard, founder at Patagonia, who said that we should not use the word sustainable until we give back as much as we take.

Restorative Sustainability was defined as restoring ecological and social systems back to a healthy state, and then

Regenerative Sustainability as creating the conditions that enable vital social and ecological systems to thrive.