We need regenerative systems, not sustainable ones, to move forward

Anything can regenerate – if we let it.

Once again, the economy is in the gutter. This time, it is because of a global pandemic. Once again, calls for change abound. What change, though?

Personally, I think what we need is a serious re-think about how we implement systems in general, moving away from exploitative or even sustainable design, towards regenerative design.

What went wrong?

Systems are usually set up by using up resources to create something or make something work. As a result, systems depend on the continuous availability of those resources, while simultaneously depleting them. We use the soil to create produce, fossil material for energy and the air and oceans as a waste repository.

But these are just some of the obvious examples. Forgive me for being general, but to name some more: Tourism uses locations around the world for R&R pleasure and depletes them in the process. The justice system punishes or entirely removes people from society, often leading to net losses for society at large.

Many health systems around the world are set up to maximize profits at the expense of an optimal level of public health, which leads to unnecessary deterioration of the public. In economics, profits arise from maximizing outputs at the presently possible minimum of inputs, thereby depleting capital, especially at the start of a supply chain – both human and otherwise. International relations aim for power gains, often fueled by social or environmental degradation.

Sustainable is not enough.

The list goes on, but the common denominator is always the same: These systems are both destructive and fragile. Any disruption sends them tumbling, while eventual disruption is inevitable because they deplete the very resources that they depend on to keep going.

The examples above are extreme, of course. There have already been attempts to reduce the degradation that many systems cause. A keyword here is sustainability, but in many ways, it is already too late for that. In all the examples above, simply maintaining the status quo is not enough. Our systems do not need to be sustainable; they need to be regenerative.

Regenerative systems are the key to the future.

Regenerative systems revitalize the resources that fuel them. Regenerative agriculture improves the soil during food production, while generating dividends for the larger natural world. Regenerative tourism, the model for our Tiny House, creates economic, societal, and environmental growth for the local communities at tourist destinations.

A regenerative justice system focuses on empathy and personal reconciliation, creating better outcomes for both victims and perpetrators. Details for every example would turn this post into an enormous essay, but you get the point.

What is important here is that regenerative systems are far more resilient than any alternative. They not only make sense for bleeding heart hippies like me who enjoy watching things grow without causing harm or suffering.

As not only the current pandemic shows, we are in desperate need for greater resilience as a species. But if we design the systems that make us prosper in a regenerative way, we can be sure that our prosperity is not only here to stay. It is here to grow and will eventually be accessible to everyone. We may even be able to reach the Sustainable Development Goals after all.

29 thoughts on “We need regenerative systems, not sustainable ones, to move forward

  1. Yes, what you say is correct, it is a systems issue. Not understanding how systems work (by that I mean failing to work out what the real underlying cause of why a system is not right – as we tend to only address the symptom and not the root cause) and then plonking a sustainability approach over the top of a failing system hoping it will fix it doesn’t make for a good outcome.
    The regenerative footprint is one we all need to adopt, because it can be done on scale to suit the individual. Last year I was involved with a group of farmers in one community that had as its focus regenerative agriculture. Their approach is through using worms to compost large quantities of waste and produce worm tea which is an amazing fertiliser and soil restorer, and so they no longer need to use phosphates and so on.
    Excellent post by the way, and great “food” for thought.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If anything these half-hearted measures will just make it worse. What gets me is that the regenerative approach, when done right, would not force us to cut down on anything. As in your example, which sounds really cool, utilizing the system improves rather than deteriorates things, with dividends for every part of the system.

      How does making worm tea work? Do you need a certain worm-to-waste ratio, and which type of waste is suitable for it?

      Thank you for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Worm tea is made from the worm castings. The worm castings contain the microbes etc that provide the benefit. A simple way to make the tea is to pour water through the worm farm (ideally rain water, otherwise chlorinated water needs to sit for 24 hours before use). The worm tea not only puts the microbes back into the soil, but it helps the crop plantings out compete the weeds and so the farmer does not need to use costly weed killers. With the farmers I was working with last year I was amazed at how little was needed to provide the weed free environment they are now growing their crops in.
        In the third blog below they explain that the worm to waste ratio is based on worms processing on average around 50% of their body weight a day. So, 1,000 (250g) – 2,000 (500g) worms will process on average 125-250g of material per day. They go on to explain that most people put in their leftover food waste (usually high in nitrogen) and forget about carbon inputs (such as shredded paper, cardboard, brown leaves, sugar cane mulch. Keeping up the carbon is the key to maintaining a healthy habitat. As a general rule the aim is to feed worms roughly 50% ‘green stuff’ and 50% ‘brown-stuff’.
        The first blog contains a video where the farmer says he is processing 6 – 8 tonnes of hospital food waste at a time. The third post is a presentation on a fully integrated approach to using natural methods to farm. Its beyond impressive! It is lengthy, but worth a watch one day.
        https://www.farmingsecrets.com/commercial-worm-composting-stage-3/
        https://earthlinkearthworms.com.au/#Wormtea
        https://wormsdownunder.com.au/top-worm-farm-tips-and-facts/
        https://www.farmingsecrets.com/nutrisoil-a-new-agriculture-di-haggerty-presentation/ .
        I am by no means an expert, but I know a good thing when I see it. My aim is to start my own worm journey some time later this year (I have been thinking about it for decades!). I hope you find the above interesting 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thank you for your detailed response! Really appreciate it. I’m already thinking about how we could apply this, although it would probably be at a smaller scale.

          It sounds like you are pretty much ready to go. Isn’t it exciting to put all that thought into practice and see it become a reality?

          Liked by 1 person

  2. An excellent point Markus. I suppose the only good news about the pandemic is that the earth has been given a bit of a reprieve. Perhaps people will become more aware of the harm we’re doing when they see the healing that can occur when we stop it. There’s an outside chance a new regenerative attitude will grow once we emerge from the current crisis.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for posting this… I especially agree on what you’ve written about health systems around the world being set up to maximize profits at the expense of an optimal level of public health leading to unnecessary deterioration of the public. — You are absolutely right!

    I have always been a supporter of empathy and personal reconciliation, I certainly wish for the Philippines to have this type of justice system and a leader who would advocate / support it.

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    1. Hi Lauren, thank you for visiting! Yes, the things we do on a personal level can be even more impactful than the higher-level things, no? What are some of the things that you try and do in this regard?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is an excellent point. Regeneration should definitely be the goal for most products/ industries, even if it does take a bit longer to figure out how to make that work. There are so many ways we can help to contribute to this in daily life too. Obviously not the same impact as it would if big business worked this way, but it’s important that we assess our lives as individuals.
    Sophie

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  5. This is such an important point! We are at a point in our society that we really have to start taking this seriously and NOW. We have been taking SO much from the environment around us without holding back, giving back or minimizing our impact and it has taken a serious toll. Now people are talking about these efforts to lessen their impact but it’s too late for that to be enough. Thank you for bringing this conversation up!

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    1. Thank you for your comment! Yes, and contributing to regeneration is surprisingly easy. In a way it is especially the smallest of things we can do every day that will have the biggest impact in the end.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. You’re absolutely right. But there are limits to what we can do on a personal level, even though personal lifestyle choices are important. Political will needs to be there in spades, and here in the UK , as well as so many other countries, even thinking about such things is not on the agenda. Big Business rules. The pandemic hasn’t after all provided the opportunity for a radical re-think, merely a wish to clamber back on to the sinking ship.

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    1. That is true, although I’m also seeing discussions about how to return to a new normal in a greener way – especially in Europe. Not that would help the UK much now of course. But also in a small way, I think that every regenerative system we decide to be a part of makes an impact. A flower pot on a window still, a committment for more empathy during one’s everyday and so on. Every one of those things creates a positive interaction, which can then set up another positive interaction. Ultimately, regenerative systems are nothing but a way to maximize the number and quality of positive interactions between the different parts of a system. And this is something everyone can contribute to, no?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I completely agree. And luckily, I move in the kind of circles where we do try to think about what we do. But the bigger picture needs addressing too.

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