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Why is ‘regenerative’ the goal?

Why is ‘regenerative’ the goal? What do we mean by regenerative (as opposed to sustainable) and what does that mean practically for business?

For context, we currently operate within an extractive economy, which is reliant on the depletion of diverse resources (environmental and human) and ultimately damaging the long-term viability and health of both. The science of climate change, loss of biodiversity and soil degradation (to name a few) within New Zealand and abroad is well established and traversed (i assume) by practitioners engaging with Moonshot City.

To move to a sustainable economy is, by definition, to “support” or “keep from giving away”. Given the current state of our natural resources, ‘sustaining’ or maintaining the current state is accepting that it is in a sufficient and healthy enough state. We know that it is not. So while a focus on minimising damage and using resources more efficiently to limit degradation of earth’s natural systems is certainly a good first step, as a goal itself, it will not provide us with the quality of resources or resilience required to thrive.

To shift to a regenerative economy is to “improve a place or system”’. The goal is not to maintain, but to develop restorative systems where resources we rely on are regenerative by design. This ultimately means designing human systems that work alongside natural systems and reverse existing degradation to ensure greater expression of life and resilience.

By way of analogy, an extractive business would harvest the roots of the tree for production. A sustainable business would harvest the fruit. A regenerative business would support the roots to grow deeper and wider, healing any damage and eventually ensuring the possibility of new and larger fruit.

Put another way, sustainably means ‘doing things better’ - whereas regeneration means ‘doing better things’.

Conceptually this may resonate, but how do businesses practically take steps towards becoming ‘regenerative’? And what frameworks or examples provide pathways for getting there? Particularly given the concept of ‘regenerative’ will depend on the nature of the business and/or industry, what ends it is seeking to serve, and what resources it is using to meet them.

A number of businesses (industrial, service and goods based) are turning to the Future Fit Business Benchmark is one framework that clearly delineates between sustainable (breaking even) and regenerative (future focused) innovation within the business. The Savory Institute is pioneering a protocol for regenerative agriculture which is holistic, outcome focused and place-based. Like anything, these frameworks are only as good as the real-time application of them, but examples and frameworks are a helpful place to start.

Regeneration is the core goal of many frameworks seeking to support resilient 21st century businesses, and always have an ecological focus (as we are ultimately operating within a living breathing ecosystem here on earth). This includes Circular economy, biomimicry, Future-Fit Business Framework, Doughnut Economics, and other nature-based solutions such as permaculture. These are the ‘how’ to get to the ‘why’ - being regenerative.

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