Regenerative Worldview

Are we as far from nature as we are in our mind? (Photo by HomeDSGN)

Evolution generates many levels of wholeness simultaneously, from the metabolic dance of a cell to the vast cycles maintaining the biosphere. These nested levels of integrity are sustained by their own characteristic patterns of health. By designing with nature, by working with these patterns of health, we may aspire to designs that are compatible with the living world.

(Ryn & Cowan, 1996)

One of the most powerful concepts in regenerative practice is its worldview. The worldview is intensely explicit in regenerative practice. It is a prerequisite and one of the differentiating factors between current sustainability practice in higher education (and often professionally) and regenerative practice. “There are some practitioners who work on sustainability with a regenerative development mindset,” explains regenerative author Daniel Christian Wahl but regenerative practice makes the goals of “health and vitality of the nested, scale-linking systems” (and therefore the worldview) a part of the work.

“The first step on the path to regenerative work is not a change of techniques but a change of mind one that holds a very different worldview,” (Mang & Reed, 2012). This worldview is often called the “ecological worldview” (du Plessis & Brandon, 2015; Mang & Reed, 2012) or “living systems worldview” (du Plessis & Brandon, 2015). The basic principle is that living systems are not ever static and that humans are inseparable from the natural world and its living systems. Humans are a nested living system in the planetary ecosystem.

humans coexist with nature even when it is not this obvious. (Photo by Kate Darmody on Unsplash)

The world around us is alive and continuous with us.

Todd & Todd, 1994

“Living systems are marked by impermanence and change,” and in order to plan for the future we must plan for change and adapt creatively rather than work to keep things them same or to sustain the current path (Regenesis Group et al., 2016). Small scale changes affect the larger scale and vice versa in this “dynamic” system of systems (du Plessis & Brandon, 2015). Each living systems is nested within another system and each system is connects with and contributes to the whole in the same way a cell in a body or a tree in a forest (Regenesis Group et al., 2016). Humans are small in terms of the global system, and “the addition of the human mind introduces properties of self-reflection and…allows the intentional…ability to direct change within the system,” (du Plessis & Brandon, 2015). 

In terms of current human sustainability practices we can extrapolate that, “Green or eco-efficient design is insufficient because it misses the real potential that arises out of the human presence on this planet: the possibility of organizing human activities so that they continuously feed and are fed by the living systems within which they occur. It is not enough to aspire to mitigate the effects of human activity – people need to take their place again as a part of nature,” (Mang & Reed, 2012). 

Even in the way that we currently look at ‘net positive’ or do more good than harm we can be missing the whole picture and only focusing on ourselves (one system layer) (Mang & Reed, 2014). Therefore, sustainable practices alone may not be enough to remedy the effects of the our industrial society, regenerative practice finds its place. The new worldview is explicit in regenerative practice. The specificity along with the path created by holistically organizing the other regenerative concepts explored below, are distinguishing features between existing sustainability (especially in regards to the sustainability competencies (Wiek et al., 2011) and regenerative practice.

There are many ways to apply this worldview to non-design fields as well. For example, when applied to an economic lens, you can picture the systems like this as designed by economist Kate Raworth in her book Doughnut Economics. We are always nested in Earth’s natural systems. For businesses, this worldview shift may involve these 7 key factors.

Source: Kate Raworth and Marcia Mihotich

Today, as we move into further adoption of this worldview, it may seem fairly obvious to some readers (especially with the proliferation of Deep Ecology), but the living systems worldview is often contrasted with “mechanistic worldview” (or “mechanical” (Lyle, 1994)) of the industrial world (Mang & Reed, 2012; ). The mechanistic worldview separated human an ecological, in a way that, “nature can be seen as a machine that can be understood and managed by reducing it to its parts,” (du Plessis, 2012). As humans began to discover the consequences of their careless use of resources and the limits to human population growth (Meadows et al., 2004), “[the] result was a growing understanding of the systemic and interdependent nature of the world and the need for a more harmonious and cooperative relationship between humans and nature,” (du Plessis, 2012). This is way of seeing humans and their place in the world, is called the living systems worldview. “In order for the Earth to remain fit for human habitation,” the living systems or ecological world view must be accepted;  “This paradigm underlies regenerative,” practice (du Plessis, 2012). Once you have shifted your understanding of the world to seeing the interconnections between all living things, including humans, the real work can start.

Works Citied:

du Plessis, C. (Jan/Feb2012). Towards a regenerative paradigm for the built environment. Building Research & Information, 40(1), 7–22.

du Plessis, C., & Brandon, P. (2015). An ecological worldview as basis for a regenerative sustainability paradigm for the built environment. Journal of Cleaner Production, 109, 53–61.

Lyle, J. T. (1994). Regenerative design for sustainable development. John Wiley & Sons Australia, Limited.

Mang, P., & Reed, B. (2012). Designing from place: A regenerative framework and methodology. Building Research & Information, 40(1), 23–38.

Mang, P., & Reed, B. (2015). The nature of positive. Building Research & Information43(1), 7–10.

Regenesis Group, Haggard, B., & Mang, P. (2016). Regenerative Development and Design: A Framework for Evolving Sustainability. Retrieved from

Ryn, S. V. der, & Cowan, S. (1996). Ecological Design. Island Press.

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

Wiek, A., Withycombe, L., & Redman, C. (2011). Key competencies in sustainability: A reference framework for academic program development. Integrated Research System for Sustainability Science, 53(6), 203–218.

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