What is Regenerative Development?

Dr. Leah V. Gibbons
Regen Living
Published in
5 min readMay 11, 2022

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Lately, the word “regenerative” is hot. But what does it really mean?

Everyone is using the word “regenerative,” it seems. Regenerative design. Regenerative development. Regenerative education. Regenerative economics. Regenerative communities. Regenerative medicine. But do they really know what “regenerative” means and entails?

This question keeps me up at night. Why?

Because the theory and practice of regeneration is a game changer. The potential and promise of regeneration is so huge that we cannot afford to green wash it. We cannot afford to believe we are doing it but actually fall far short. We especially cannot afford to label initiatives and projects as “regenerative” when they only aim for sustainability, or something even less than sustainability, like conventional destructive practices.

Regeneration is the next wave of sustainability, and it is time for us to fully step into it. It is what most people want for themselves, their families, friends, communities, the world. It reaches into every aspect of our lives — food, communities, mobility, economics, the built environment, health, education, governance, communication, cultures — everything.

Regeneration, and regenerative sustainability, entails whole living systems — humans, more-than-human life, inanimate components like water, air, rocks, etc — continuously moving to ever higher states of health, wellbeing, vitality, and abundance. In other words, regeneration is a process of manifesting thrivability for all life for all time. Pretty awesome, right?

“What about sustainability?” you might be asking yourself. Sustainability is often defined as meeting human needs without decreasing the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Pretty not-awesome, right? Not only does the aim of sustainability not consider the needs of millions of other species that exist on this planet, but it presumes a very low level of quality of life for all species, including humans, compared to what is possible. There are other problems with what I call conventional and contemporary sustainability, which you can read about here.

So how do we regenerate and get to thrivability? Through the process and practice of Regenerative Development.

Regenerative Development (RD) is an on-going change process that manifests regenerative sustainability. It is the process through which capacities in living systems develop so that ever greater vitality, abundance, and prosperity for all life manifests. As a place-based development and design methodology, Regenerative Development catalyzes shifts to thrivability for all life from the scale of individuals to the entire world. Through Regenerative Development, we can regenerate the world. It just keeps getting more awesome!

At its core, Regenerative Development is about aligning human consciousness and actions with living systems principles and characteristics.

Our actions arise from our consciousness, so any approach that aims to significantly shift tangible outcomes must also address this more intangible foundation of how we think, what we believe, what we think about, what we value, how we perceive relationships, our hopes, our desires, our fears. It has to go deep. And Regenerative Development does. Even as it addresses the outer, visible aspects of life that we can see (like our built environments, food systems, economic systems, governance systems, quality of life, as well as our effects on biodiversity, water and air quality, soil health, etc.), it addresses the inner, less visible aspects of our consciousness and everything that arises from it in both indirect and direct ways.

As a whole, we have moved out of alignment with how nature regenerates itself since at least the Industrial Revolution, with disastrous consequences. If we don’t (re)align ourselves now, it will likely be too late to avoid unimaginably bleak futures for humans and the rest of life. You can read all about this elsewhere, and I want you to focus here on what you can do to keep this from happening. So, read on!

All healthy living systems exhibit the same principles and characteristics. These could be called Living Systems Principles and Characteristics. I call these Regenerative Development Principles and Core Characteristics of Regenerative Living Systems to help us translate principles into practice through Regenerative Development. For any project or system we are acting in, no matter how large or small (even ourselves!), we can refer to Regenerative Development Principles and Core Characteristics of Regenerative Living Systems to guide us in aligning human consciousness and action with life’s principles. First we ensure that the Principles are being followed, then we use the Characteristics to implement a finer, more detailed scale of discernment.

If processes and products do not follow Regenerative Principles and Characteristics, we cannot say they are regenerative. They are somewhere on a continuum from conventional to regenerative.

Regenerative Development Principles include working in whole living systems, holistic thinking, manifesting potential, growing regenerative capacity, adding real value (not just financial), creating mutualism, and identifying and working to shift nodal leverage points in living systems. To learn about Regenerative Development Principles and Core Characteristics of Regenerative Living Systems, visit Koru Collaborative.

While Regenerative Development Principles and Core Characteristics of Regenerative Living Systems are universal, specific place-based Indicators and Strategies are co-created through the Regenerative Development process as a community. We conceptualize Regenerative Development processes as occurring through communities of varying sizes because all life exists in relationship, in community. It is most useful for bringing humans into alignment with living systems to think and act at this scale, through this lens.

For example, what we call an individual human being is actually a complex community of human cells, bacteria, viruses, fungi, energies from different sources, external environments, the past and the present, and processes we do not yet fully understand, such as our perspectives, paradigms, and worldviews. The same is true for any living systems of any scale. Think of a neighborhood. It is a complex, co-created emergence of human life, more-than-human life, microclimates, geography, hydrology, time, space, and more. To work with regenerative processes, we must work through the lens of complexity, relatedness, reciprocity, emergence — community.

Regenerative Development is a fairly simple idea, but it is not easy. Most of us haven’t been in cultures that support the development of regenerative consciousness. That is why I created the Regenerative Community Development (RCD) Framework©. The RCD Framework© guides people and communities through the RD process while providing regenerative principles, characteristics, and criteria so we know if we are on the right path. The RCD Framework© also provides strategies to help us get started with on-the-ground implementation.

Many people recognize the wisdom of regeneration. There is a regenerative movement afoot. Join us! We need you!

See this for more information about Regenerative Development, and how Koru Collaborative can support you in your regenerative endeavors. Also check out our Regenerative Leadership Certification Program here.

Visit the Regenerative Living Institute to learn how we can collaborate to catalyze regeneration in the communities you are part of. Check out our educational offerings, which include a certification in Regenerative Community Development as well as regenerative project certification, and much more!

And find out more about the collective impact initiative “regen living ecosystem” to be part of a global network of regenerators changing the world through place-based regenerative projects.

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Dr. Leah V. Gibbons
Regen Living

Dr. Gibbons has created regenerative standards and is a cultural creative catalyzing shifts in living systems beyond sustainability toward toward thrivability.