Framing the Path

Photo by pine watt on Unsplash

the call has gone out…move beyond marginal improvements and shift our focus towards creating vitality and net benefit.

Hes et al., 2018

Regenerative is becoming such a popular term that Fast Company is talking about Regenerative Natural Systems as a way to embrace the circular economy through agriculture, and J. Walter Thompson has created a trend report called The New Sustainability: Regeneration. After a brief study of Marxist thought and how the powers that be attempt to co-opt anything that is seen as a threat to the norm (Williams, 1973), I am weary of these consumeristic attempts to keep up with the regenerative ‘trend’.

Articles and reports like these remind me of the importance of defining and teaching the essential concepts of regenerative before self-preserving entities fully claim the word as their own. However, Daniel Christian Wahl (well-known regenerative writer and teacher) sees this trend merely as a step in the journey of regenerative practice becoming mainstream. He says, “Building a movement needs ‘band wagons’. As more folks jump on, there is initially a loss in depth of meaning of a framework as people begin to use the language while they are still in the process of developing a better understanding of the deeper significance of associate practice,” (Wahl, 2018). Whether or not these corporate encroachments should be seen as a threat or encouraging, there is a clear need for clarifying the path and practice of regenerative work.

As I look towards my thesis project and designing a tool for teaching regenerative concepts to undergraduates, I have been looking for existing regenerative frameworks and tools. I am looking to build something interactive, broadly applicable, and simple which can be inserted into a classroom or on-campus workshop. As is the case with all sustainability, traditional lecture, will not be sufficient. Past studies have shown that Project and Problem-based teaching is best for teaching sustainability at the college level (Brundiers & Wiek, 2013). Both of the following tools are centered around a project, but the question remains if their message is clear.

The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place

George Bernard Shaw

LENSES Framework

LENSES or Living Environments in Natural, Social, and Economic Systems Framework was developed by Center for Living Environments and Regeneration. This tool is meant to guide the planning phases of a regenerative development project (Hes et al., 2018). It consists of three layers: 1. The Foundation Lens, 2. The Flow Lens, and 3. the Vitality Lens (Hes et al., 2018). The first lens has principals for the project, the second encourages consideration of environmental and social systems or ‘flows’, and the third acts as a reminder to find ways to regenerate the systems (Hes et al., 2018). The LENSES framework was applied to a community brainstorming/feedback workshop for a large-scale spa development in Australia and compared to an earlier workshop for the same site in a previous iteration of the project (Hes et al., 2018). The facilitators found that the framework did create more integrated sustainable practices (such as, habitat restoration) (Hes et al., 2018).

LENSES Framework from CLEAR

REGEN Framework

The REGEN Framework was created by the US Green Building Council. This framework uses site-specific visualization (through the scales of colored circles) to help pin point the best points of intervention for a given regenerative project (Hes & du Plessis, 2015). The tool looks at four broad categories: social systems, natural systems, economic systems, and the built environment systems (Svec & Berkebile, 2011). The framework attempts to maximize the benefits and connections in these four systems (Svec & Berkebile, 2011).

REGEN Framework from USGBC & BNIM

With both tools, there seems to be an adept simplification of complexity and proper prompting for a change in mindset needed for regenerative practice. However, the existing tools are specific to built environment applications with limited consideration for social cooperation. Both tools include social systems, but do not have stakeholder engagement plans or cooperation facilitation built into them. To be fair, the purpose of both tools if to facilitate the planning process, presumably after the stakeholders are at the table, but with the type of tool needed for teaching undergraduates, cooperation will need to be explicitly included. I have also noted a lack of playful engagement that could draw in wider, possibly student (rather than professional) audiences.

CLEAR does provide a simplified list of regenerative principles that could help build a new tool for students. While this list is quite comprehensive, and the most accessible, I have found to date. This list could benefit from direct discussion of worldviews and the shift to understanding that humans are intrinsically linked to the planet’s ecological health. This knowledge enables the other principles to enable deep impact.

CLEAR’s Regenerative Principles

If you know of other frameworks and tools for regenerative design or development or foundational concepts, please let me know in the comments below.

Works Citied

Brundiers, K., & Wiek, A. (2013). Do We Teach What We Preach? An International Comparison of Problem- and Project-Based Learning Courses in Sustainability. Sustainability5(4), 1725–1746.

Hes, D., & du Plessis. (2015). Designing for Hope: Pathways to Regenerative Sustainability. Retrieved from

Hes, D., Stephan, A., & Moosavi, S. (2018). Evaluating the Practice and Outcomes of Applying Regenerative Development to a Large-Scale Project in Victoria, Australia. Sustainability10(2), 460.

Svec, P., & Berkebile, R. (2011). REGEN: Toward a tool for regenerative thinking. Building Research and Information

Wahl, D. C. (2018, December 3). ‘Regeneration’ hits the mainstream, but what about the deeper practice? Retrieved October 5, 2019, from Medium website:

Williams, R. (1973). Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory. In R. Williams (Ed.), Problems in Materialism and Culture(Vol. 1, pp. 31–49). London: Verso.

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