The word sustainability doesn’t seem to fit the bill anymore. In this article, I’m exploring why and what comes next. Spoiler alert. We do not want to just sustain what we now have, we need to restore ecosystems and unleash the abundance of nature. The ReGeneration will play a big part in creating the future…
Sustainability has become a container term. The meaning according to Oxford, can be twofold:
- ‘The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level’: ‘the sustainability of economic growth’
- ‘Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance’: ‘the pursuit of global environmental sustainability’
Number 1 means we want things to remain as they are now. Well, that means a broken world full of pollution, waste, and exploited nature (including exploited people). Is that what we really want?
Number 2 means somewhat similar, although it’s more committed to natural resources. But do we want just to avoid depletion? Or do we want to create a more beautiful world than the one we live in now?
In order to answer these questions, let’s have a closer look at sustainability and the resources we use now.
The Global Footprint Network calculates the footprints of countries in a systemic way. They visualize all connections between the data, more than 200,000 data points per country per year. For a quick glance at the countries on a global map, here are the figures in 2019.
This article by BBC News explores the details. “If everyone on the planet consumed as much as the average US citizen, four Earths would be needed to sustain them.” The calculations include the Earth we need to absorb all our carbon. So it has to do with resources as much as with climate change.
How many Earths do we need?
It has been suggested that if everyone on the planet consumed as much as the average US citizen, four Earths would be…
So, if we use more planet now than we can sustain, the logical conclusion is that we have to take action on two counts:
- We need to restore ecosystems big time, so nature will give us more resources to share with all species
- We need to be more humble as a human species. We need to limit our use of resources to fulfill our basic needs. We can definitely build a vibrant (regional) economy around these basic needs
Only when we give back to nature and restore, we can create an economy that uses ecological laws of being and works towards abundance for all species. We need more than sustainability, that’s clear. We need to restore ecosystems and learn as a human species how to live within the boundaries of our planet.
The good news is that it can be done and that many people around the world are getting on with it. So, how did this vision start? When did we get the idea that sustainability can never save the world and we need to do better?
Already in the 1970s, a report from the Club of Rome shook our foundations; ‘The Limits to Growth’. We have created a capitalist consumer economy that is fueled by unlimited growth. And many people cannot imagine anything else by now. ‘The Limits to Growth’ made one thing very clear: exponential growth will ruin our planet and our prospects of survival as a human species.
In the beginning, there was a lot of criticism, but after the year 2000, the opinion began to swing in a positive direction. Influential energy economist Matthew Simmons concluded: “In hindsight, The Club of Rome turned out to be right. We simply wasted 30 important years ignoring this work.”
In 2010, 40 years after The Limits to Growth was first published, research from the University of Melbourne concludes that the book’s forecasts are accurate.
“In hindsight, The Club of Rome turned out to be right. We simply wasted 30 important years ignoring this work.” — Matthew Simmons
So what’s the alternative? Donella Meadows, one of the writers of ‘The Limits to Growth’, came up with the idea of changing quantitative growth into qualitative growth. We can adopt a lifestyle of abundance in all the categories that really matter.
The economy can revolve around basic needs, such as clean water, clean air, food, shelter, etc. And we can add a lifestyle of love, personal growth, and care. Let’s fulfill the need and stop the greed…
“The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed” — Mahatma Gandhi
If we adopt this thinking, what’s beyond sustainability? It’s called regeneration. Another term that might seem vague, but that’s gaining more and more momentum. So I really want to explain what’s meant by it.
Regeneration is a term originally used in biology. Wikipedia says: ‘In biology, regeneration is the process of renewal, restoration, and growth that makes genomes, cells, organisms, and ecosystems resilient to natural fluctuations or events that cause disturbance or damage.’
The good news is that: ‘Every species is capable of regeneration, from bacteria to humans’. So, what does the term regeneration mean when described in society? When used in terms of economy? Or in one sentence with sustainability? I’ll give you some examples.
- First of all, there’s regenerative agriculture. This is a form of agriculture that is restoring soil health. Creating a living soil full of insects, micro-organisms, and fungi. A third of the biodiversity is found in the soil. So restoring healthy soil is very useful for our future food production.
- Secondly, we see regenerative practices used in local, vibrant economies that give back to nature. In this book ‘Designing Regenerative Cultures’ by Daniel Christian Wahl we find a lot of practices that describe how we can live regeneratively.
- A movement has been started by and for young people in the Nordic countries. They call themselves the ReGeneration. It’s a refreshing alternative for the names of earlier generations. Generation X (1965–1976), Generation Y (1977–1995), Generation Z (1996-to be discussed). A less nihilistic name I think. ReGeneration has a purpose in its name.
- Regeneration has also taken root in the business jargon. There is a book called ‘The Regenerative Business’ by Carol Sandford. And a report telling businesses how to become regenerative. And in this trend report by J. Walter Thompson, you can see all business trends linked to the term. It’s available as a free download.
- And then there are many other contexts around. I was recently contacted by someone in the field of ‘regenerative cooking’. Creative! Great!
Some people are saying that all this attention for the term regeneration will only dilute it, just as it happened with sustainability. But I still applaud it. We need to take steps. And little steps, one by one, might be the only way for people to overcome their fears and unease.
The bottom line of this article is: let’s switch sustainability for regeneration. And really try to find out what it means to us in practice. To our daily lives! There are many examples of regenerative practices, material use, business models and self-sustaining living around.
If you need some inspiration, here is some further reading.
Business Models: from Linear to Circular to Regenerative
How can we create regenerative business models? How can business models benefit from synergy and create abundance for…
Unusual, Yucky Materials Can Prevent Waste Forever
The soil can be end-user of our products — with unlimited potential for designers
Thank you, Mike, for adding your wise energy to my words on ReGeneration.