Refocusing on Regenerative

When inspiration is seen as a reward rather than a prerequisite — we propel ourselves ahead.

Mark Manson in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

Many of us know from experience that we cannot wait around for inspiration to strike. We have to put in work and allow ourselves to be invested and give our brains time to make new neuronal pathways. In the same way we can also lose sight of our inspiration by pushing our project too long and hard. A wise person recently asked me about my thesis, “What are you excited about with this project?” I sat there for a minute, having just rattled off a bunch of other answers to her questions. I suddenly lost my words. I knew that I knew my inspiration, but somewhere along the way I forgot to keep it front of mind. So today, I am refocusing and sharing with you 5 things that excite me about studying regenerative concepts in order to teach them to undergraduates.

1. Paradigm Shifting: Before starting this project, one of my goals for my home was that when someone enters, their carbon footprint will be automatically lower; simply from being in the space, their impact would be less. This is a large goal that mirrors my life goal of creating sustainable systems, so that no one has to work at sustainability, it just is.

It was with this mindset that I discovered regeneration. Regeneration was presented to me as a mimicking of nature. I learned  how through ecological succession, ecosystems learn/adapt in ways to regenerate resources and life feeds other life. Then, I heard about The Earth Charter, (finalized in 2000 after being prompted by several international summits on environmental crises) that states we should, “Adopt patterns of production, consumption, and reproduction that safeguard Earth’s regenerative capacities, human rights, and community well-being.” In recognition that we should protect Earth’s ability to regenerate, I soon found a path to people who were also working to imitate regenerative capabilities in human systems, including in economic systems as Kate Raworth discusses in Doughnut Economics.

A lightbulb went off for me; being ‘less bad’ was not enough to save the planet or the people in it, we needed to create systems that generously gave back and restored what was lost. Already having been an advocate for habitat restoration, my vision was easily shifted towards new goals and the wheels started turning on how systems could be better designed with the goal of leaving a system better than you found it. Regenerative concepts have the potential to shift many people’s paradigms on what is possible in terms of global wellbeing and how to accomplish it.

2. Education: Fairly quickly, my inspiration shifted to, “How can I share this?” Beyond telling friends and family, I decided my best audience would be undergraduate students. Undergrads are the closest people to starting their professional careers (save for some who skip college or take alternate paths). As much as I love teaching young children, I knew that with the urgency of Climate Change, we needed a big shift now. We need to stop waiting for the younger generations to grow up. Helping as many undergrads as possible understand regenerative concepts, became my new thesis goal. I also hope to one day incorporate my learnings into my own course curriculum as a professor.

Building Equity: As I dove into regenerative concepts, one concept that I came believe is essential to building a regenerative society is equity. Although (as explored in Cultivation and Regenerative Equity Part I & Part II) (LINK) I have found evidence for the necessity of including equity as a lens and priority in regenerative work and found precedent for explicitly including efforts to further equitable practices, there is more work to be done in this arena. There seems to be room for building discussion around how to ensure building equity is not a superficial practice and how equity should be an essential, not optional, part of the design/project process. Only in a few places, such as with International Living Future Institute Living Building Challenge Imperatives or The Ecological Principles of Design do we see equity called out as essential (Todd & Todd, 1994). Even there, further guidelines and specificity could help make the practice of addressing issues of equity more common in regenerative practice. The more we explicitly talk about it, the better it will be addressed.

4. Synergy: I have also recently come to realize that part of the power of regenerative concepts is looking broadly at time: past, present, and future. Two core regenerative concepts are restoration and co-evolution with nature. In order to restore, you must look at what has been damaged in the past, and what circular resource systems can be brought back into the system. To co-evolve with nature, you have to examine what exists today and how to imbed flexibility, increase the capacity to adapt, and improve capabilities to prepare for the future. The synergy of these two concepts are the lens through which work can be done. Other concepts, such as a living systems worldview and systems thinking prepare you for cooperation. Place literacy informs your work. However restoration and co-evolution is what you do in your nested systems. This nested systems view of regeneration is how I am currently synthesizing regenerative concepts and I am excited to add to the regenerative dialogue, hopefully contributing  a new way of thinking about regenerative practices. I will be sharing the framework I am building in a future post.

5. Games: The final design deliverable I am most seriously considering for my thesis at this point, is designing a game to teach undergraduates regenerative concepts, case studies, and applications. Personally, I love games (card games, board games, simple or strategy), and I am enjoying the process of exploring existing games that teach complex concepts such as Biomimicry 3.8’s Packaging Innovation Toolkit or Designercise Story Telling Kit an Unschool creation to improve communication and collaboration, using storytelling prompts. Games enable you to tap into the creative potential of what ‘could be’ by helping your imagination wonder and safely explore new concepts. They also help make connections between people (at the table with you) or between fields you may not have previously thought interested you.

These five ideas will be fueling the next phase of my project: finishing the literature review and moving on to primary research. I hope that you will continue to follow my journey as I further develop my thesis, and see how these inspirations will add to this growing field.

Works Citied

Todd, J., & Todd, N. (1994). From Eco-Cities to Living Machines: Principles of Ecological Design. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

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