“Regeneration” is not a just new word to replace the now-overused term “sustainability.” It represents a new way of thinking — an entirely new level of ambition that implies, ultimately, a new paradigm.
Regeneration: Whether you are a sustainability expert or simply a conscious citizen, I am sure you have heard the word recently. The concept is slowly occupying the centre of gravity in the debate around building the future we want and approaching the “Decade of action” we desperately need.
The world has realised and broadly accepted that our production and consumption systems — the very same systems that fostered global economic progress — have also surpassed the environmental boundaries of a healthy planet; and corrective actions are needed, urgently. After so much damage, simply reducing further injury will not help our life-supporting ecosystems heal. The previously acceptable goal of zero environmental/social impact is being quickly superseded. The time has come for a renewed approach that will take us beyond net-zero environmental impacts. Becoming “less bad” is simply not enough; we need to become “more good” — aiming for truly net-positive, regenerative outcomes.
But what does “regenerative” mean? Intuitively, we all understand it. It means putting back in more than we take from the world while, at the same time, rectifying the damage our economic systems have caused for generations. However, challenges arise when the regenerative rhetoric confronts commercial realities accompanied by the predictable question: How do we translate regeneration into the business universe?
Importantly, “regeneration” is not a just new word to replace the now-overused term “sustainability.” It is the inevitable next step when moving from degenerative systems that pollute and waste resources to models that restore nature and support communities. It is a new way of thinking — an entirely new level of ambition that implies, ultimately, a new paradigm.
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But paradigm-building is not an easy task. If we want to define what regeneration truly means and make it happen, we need more courageous and fruitful conversations — we must share our refections, experiences and points of view.
I recently had the privilege to discuss this topic with Carol Sanford, a recognised thought leader in this area, author of The Regenerative Business and founder of The Regenerative Business Development Community. In Sanford´s opinion, when we speak about regeneration, we “don't need to do better or do good.” She summarises her vision by saying that regeneration is about “building capabilities” because, in her words:
“Regeneration only happens in living systems. It cannot happen in things … We have to leave some of our learnings and consolidated knowledge behind and rediscover an ancient paradigm … A paradigm that was existing already in ancient, indigenous cultures and that was totally integrated in living systems.”
For her, regeneration is about building capabilities while we work simultaneously, not only linearly. It is also about respecting the fundamental essence of the systems in which we are working. And finally, it is about having a “systemic vision.”
I find Sanford’s words quite inspiring; and I agree with her idea of creating capabilities and having a nature-inspired and a collaborative, systemic view. But for me, the real change comes when we try to put these ideas into practice. If success is the goal, thinking and acting should go hand-in-hand; and inspiration and delivery should be mutually reinforcing — theory should be proven by “doing.”
History has taught us that even the most fundamental changes require action. Looking at my own original field of study, physics — one cannot imagine how we could have abandoned mechanistic Newtonian thinking and embraced the new, mind-blowing, quantum paradigm without the unvaluable help of experimentation.
I would like to give you an example from my own company, Brambles — a world leader in reusable packaging solutions. We recently adopted a strategy to pioneer a regenerative supply chain, and have translated this vision into ambitious commitments and tangible objectives. Historically, supply chains have typically consumed natural resources and generated waste; we are now proposing to revert this model and create a supply chain that consumes existing waste and creates natural resources — a truly Copernican shift.
We have built an entirely new series of targets under the regenerative banner — shifting from avoiding deforestation to promoting afforestation; making durable, circular products from plastic waste; and investing in materials and systems that sequester carbon are just some examples. Our people and our partners have welcomed our regenerative program enthusiastically, and we are already taking action. However, we recognise that we don’t have all the answers — we probably don’t even have all the right questions. As pioneers, we are entering uncharted territory. The roadmap towards a regenerative supply chain is still not well defined.
With this challenge in mind, we have invited other experts and companies to join the conversation and understand what ‘regeneration’ means — in theory and practice — and help define the pathway. Together with leaders such as Carol Sanford, Daniel Wahl (educator in regenerative development) and Eric Soubeiran (VP of Nature, Water Cycle & Human Rights at Danone), we will make this conversation broader and bigger as we delve deeper into the regenerative topic.
Listen to the first episode here.
So, stay tuned for new articles and podcasts soon to be released in this series on Sustainable Brands. Join us on this exciting journey!