Regeneration is a relatively recent idea that has been gaining traction amongst climate action circles worldwide.

In contrast to sustainability, which aims to maintain a state that avoids continued depletion of natural resources in order to keep ecological balance; regeneration refers to restoration, renewal, and growth.

In other words, regeneration does not sustain, but rather improves upon the previous state.

regenerative economics

Sonetti, G.; Brown, M.; Naboni, E. About the Triggering of UN Sustainable Development Goals and Regenerative Sustainability in Higher Education. Sustainability 2019, 11, 254.

The idea originally took hold with regenerative farming practices, which are a set of holistic farming practices that seek to enhance the health of the soil through things like adding cover crops, not tilling, composting and livestock grazing, all of which contribute to soil health and more carbon sequestration.

At last week’s ReGenFriends summit, experts gathered to explore the theme of Regeneration in all aspects including economics, business impact and farming. Here’s a snapshot of what was presented.

How Can An Economic System That Is Extractive by Design Lead to a Prosperous Planet?

The Capital Institute has been at the forefront of regenerative economics – an economic system that works to “regenerate” capital assets through restoration, renewal, and growth.  Founder, John Fullerton spoke about how in standard business, one can either regenerate one’s capital assets or consume them until the point where the assets can no longer produce value.

regenerative economy

8 Principles of a Regenerative Economy : The Capital Institute

Recognizing the Earth as the original capital asset places a true value on the environment.

Fullerton went on to discuss the 8 principles of a regenerative economy and for the need to develop a new narrative driven from the bottom up, a grassroots movement supported by economic frameworks that can transition us into this new regenerative era.

Food Regeneration is the Center of Nourishing the Planet

Executives from food, national grocer brands, and the CDP discussed the changes they are making to apply a more holistic approach to their supply chains and doing more than just “greenwashing” by committing to hard goals and common forms of measurement. 

Shauna Sadowski, Head of Sustainability, Natural & Organic Operating Unit at General Mills shared that the company has a 1 million acre carbon sequestration mandate. Gina Asoudegan, Vice President of Mission and Innovation at Applegate Farms shared how the company has launched a regenerative agriculture platform that will ensure all of their animals are raised using rotational grazing practices which will build soil health, improve water quality and and increase biodiversity.

The Business of Regeneration

Propagate Ventures wants to treat trees as a financial asset and is helping farmers diversify their crops through agroforestry, (a regenerative farming practice) increasing their profits with the addition of fruit, nut and timber crops which could see a potential 40% increase in profitability.

Propagate is building a direct link back to the financial value of the earth, and treating trees as a capital asset. Some fun facts about agroforestry:

  • 4-8 tons per acre per year of carbon sequestration in agroforestry
  • 3-7x reduced phosphorus runoff
  • 4-10x reduced runoff nitrogen

The farm retains its soil value, increases its water retention and is contributing to CO2 removal at scale.

Another company reinventing the economics of agriculture is Regen Network, which is building peer to peer infrastructure that will help track and measure ecological progress to regeneration around the world.

Using blockchain and smart contract technologies, Regen Network can then provide verified proof about the ecological state of land and water areas and develop a system for contracting and payment based on these verified measures.

It was wonderful to hear from Patagonia’s Director of Philosophy and vocal brand advocate, Vincent Stanley discuss the company’s  recent change to its mission statement from “We make the best product, but do it with no unnecessary harm and use business to implement solutions to the environmental crisis. ” to its new more impactful mission statement below.

We’re in business to save our home planet.                                                                                        ~ Patagonia Mission Statement

When founder Yvon Chouinard was asked about “why home?”,  he answered “because I don’t want to go to Mars”. This change puts the emphasis on creating a regenerative business model for the planet, a business that gives back as much as it takes.

Turning Garbage Into a Commodity

It’s no secret, we’ve been treating the ocean as humanity’s garbage dump and plastic is a key culprit. We’ve all heard the stat that soon the ocean will contain more plastic than fish by 2050.

What if we saw plastic not as garbage but as a valuable commodity that can be monetized?

Plastic Bank is doing just that by helping developing countries with a lack of recycling infrastructure to turn plastic into currency. Plastic is actually worth more than steel.

Shaun Frankson of Plastic Bank spoke about his company’s initiatives to create Social Plastics, that can then be resold and turned into other materials. In countries like Haiti, communities are using plastic profits to fund solar electricity and even education.

Sandra Ponce de Leon with Shaun Frankson, Founder of Plastic Bank

And major global corporations are heeding the call, Plastic Bank has launched partnerships with global conglomerates such as Henkel and SC Johnson who have committed to using Social Plastic in their products packaging. 

When you can see garbage as a commodity to be capitalized on, recycling becomes a conduit to helping communities access the things they need.  ~ Shaun Frankson 

Big thanks to Nils-Michael Langenborg and Emily Olson, founders of ReGenFriends for putting together such a great program. 

Continuing to give visibility and awareness to the players that are leading us into this new era of regeneration over extraction is something we should all be committed to in order to leave our earth as it should be – healthy and thriving for future generations.