ⓒ Copyright Lara Isaacson

The deed is done!

Thank you to all who supported my thesis work these last few years!

My primary research—user testing the REGEN Nest card deck in digital formats—showed great promise in terms of this tool’s potential for teaching regenerative design and for furthering the goals of sustainability in higher eduction. Students and recent alumni from all over the United States reacted positively to the graphics, the content, and flow of the activities even despite some technical difficulties and the low-fi nature of these early prototypes. Mini Decks for Self Development, Restoration, and Co-evolution were demonstrated in live zoom workshops or via a video-facilitated, interactive website. In total 27 participants interacted with one or more of the decks, providing actionable feedback for future development of The Nest. Each Mini Deck has the following components to make for a versatile, replayable, and adaptable tool for higher education.

The Nest Visual Guide ⓒ Copyright Lara Isaacson

I hope to continue refining the existing Mini Decks and develop the remaining decks, using the learning outcomes in this Nester’s Journey diagram below. In the next phase of development, I believe there is enough substance to show professionals (who focus on regenerative or sustainability work), as well as put it to the true test of applying the framework to a real, practical design project that can be evaluated for effectiveness at creating the conditions for regeneration of ecological and social systems. The Nest is ready to regenerate.

Journey Map of the Nest Experience ⓒ Copyright Lara Isaacson

If you are interesting in sponsoring the refinement of the activities, graphic design, and video content of The Nest, please reach out, using the contact form on the REGEN Nest Website.

Website Screen Shot ⓒ Copyright Lara Isaacson

At risk of being very cliche and meta–this is where my thesis journey ends and my career path regenerates. This has been an incredible experience of self development. It has shifted my worldview, gave me a sense of how to intervene in systems for positive change, and has grown my network. Though these folks for donated their time and expertise, I realized that regeneration is not up to me alone but relies heavily on collective effort and knowledge. They further helped me deepen my knowledge of cultural and ecological degradation, enabling me to see the path to restoration and future co-evolution with nature. My own journey mirrors the Nest itself.

Graphically Updated Regenerative Nest Framework ⓒ Copyright Lara Isaacson

As I return to the professional world full time—with all of these newly nested skills, relationships, and capabilities—I will also be constantly in the feedback loop of starting again with self development and self care, which will shift my worldview, as learn new ways of systems intervention, while building new cooperative community links and discovering cultural and ecological place literacy, all leading to restoring and furthering co-evolving with nature. This work will consistently bring me back to self development as I learn how to better build equitable and ecologically life-giving systems.

Thanks for following my thesis Journey! Take care!

If you’d like to see more of my work, please check out the rest of my portfolio website.


© 2020 Copyright Lara Isaacson

“It’s easier to be a dad this morning. It’s easier to tell your kids, ‘Character matters, being a good person matters,’…This is vindication for a lot of people who really have suffered…This is a big deal for us to get some peace…for a whole lot of people it’s a good day.”

Environmental Justice advocate Van Jone’s, reaction to the Biden/Harris victory

I feel it would be amiss to write anything and publicly post it this weekend without acknowledging the incredible feat for social and environmental justice yesterday. Congratulations to President Elect Joe Biden and Vice President Elect Kamala Harris! Moving into 2021, I am enthusiastic about the renewed potential for regenerative sustainability policy change for both people and the planet. With a lighter, more hopeful outlook about what we can collectively achieve, the place of my thesis in the larger picture of systems change seems more tangible than ever.

The Regenerative Nest has been upgraded to include self development as the first and outer most circle of the nest. It is the place we each start our regenerative design journey and the place we revisit every step of the process. If you’ve been following along, you saw my draft of the update for the Nest with a shift from tucking self development under cooperation, to recognizing this as a central regenerative concept that marks the beginning and maintenance of regenerative design practice.

© 2020 Copyright Lara Isaacson

Additionally, a card-based educational tool for learning the theories and methods of regenerative design has been modeled around The Nest. Based on the literature review for this thesis, this is the first time a model and higher education tool has been created around the theories and methods of regenerative design. The deck is called REGEN Nest. Building on other models and a rich body of work, this tool increases the accessibility of these foundational regenerative concepts through consolidation and targeting the young professionals segment of sustainability work.

There are Mini Decks for each circle of The Nest (see sample in image below) and both Quick and Immersive activities for educational settings as well as tips for integrating the deck into an actual design project. The REGEN Nest can be used while in a classroom setting as a primer for regenerative concepts, applied to project-based learning pedagogy, and then carried past graduation into the professional world as a facilitation tool for educating colleagues or again guiding the design process. The tool can be used across design disciplines and is simple enough to incorporate disciplines outside of design for sustainability, such as in science, engineering, or public policy. Regenerative design requires many fields to cooperate, sharing cultural and ecological expertise to co-design effective systems intervention. The Regenerative Nest through the REGEN Nest card deck becomes the key to accessing a shared regenerative framework and language.

© 2020 Copyright Lara Isaacson

Currently the REGEN Nest is 100% digital out of the necessity of testing in online settings due to COVID19. The deck is still being designed in a card-based medium to leave the door open for future printing and the variety of classroom settings available in higher education. Yet, this virtual format has reveals the internet based network potential of connecting students and designers alike around regenerative ideas along with the potential for self organizing iterative design of the Nest. More of this potential will be explored in the upcoming primary research. At the moment, Phase One of the research is halfway complete. (See the image below for a visualization of the primary research design for this thesis.)

Visualization of primary research design

One live virtual user testing workshop on the self care portion of the Self Development Mini Deck of the REGEN Nest has already been successfully conducted with a group of primarily undergraduate design students. The workshop data is in the process of being analyzed but thus far indicated that further development of the REGEN Nest will provide a promising start for introducing regenerative design explicitly into sustainability curriculums. The second workshop will be conducted this week with another group of undergraduate design students and a focus on two different Mini Decks of the REGEN Nest.

The second Phase of primary research is also not far off and will include virtual user testing with a pre-recorded video to accommodate a variety of time zones and schedules. This Phase will also include primarily non design disciplines. That is all I want to reveal about the user testing process for now, since this is a public blog and I don’t want to share too much more of the content before the user testing is complete. Some of my future participants may read this blog and I want them to be experiencing the content of the REGEN Nest for the first time for more spontaneous and authentic responses. 

After the primary research and analysis is complete, I will do one more post about some of my findings and the potential future of this versatile tool. There is just about a month left until my tentative thesis defense date, so stay tuned!


Photo by Taylor Simpson on Unsplash

Today, I found myself announcing to the class I am TAing for that I will be building a regenerative retreat center in the US to help sustainability professionals rejuvenate. One of my students had just presented on Leyla Acroraglu’s regenerative CO Project Farm (Creative Optimists Project Farm) in Portugal, and we were all chatting about how much we need that in the US as well. I explained how based on my thesis research I see self care as a core part of regenerative design and sustainability work in general. Sustainability is a ‘caring’ profession not unlike teaching or the medical fields with a high level of dedication and high stakes work that can lead easily to burn out (Brundiers & Wiek, 2017). Without ‘preventative self care’ (Brundiers & Wiek, 2017) and maintenance, we can run out of steam, ideas, and hope. Yet, self care is not often taught in sustainability higher education programs (Brundiers & Wiek, 2017), and it is often looked at as selfish or frivolous. 

When I first started noticing that a large percentage of the regenerative design case studies I could get my hands on were retreats or spas, I thought, “what a waste of this innovative regenerative theory.” To be fair, one of my gripes was the concern that these spas were commoditizing what is supposed to save the world from an individualistic capitalism and the reductive and static exclusively mechanistic worldview (Kambo et al., 2016). However, with the realization that self development is the outer most circle of the Regenerative Nest—not solely nested under cooperation, with the recent dedication of part of my primary research to self care as a part of that self development , and with the current state of the global pandemic and the Climate Change era, I realized I was overlooking a core system: myself. Self development is the beginning. It is also the glue for each other circle of The Nest. I now believe the reason three of my case studies are spas and retreats centers is because that is exactly the thing we need to do first. We need to learn self care, personal development, and integrate that with our professional development and creative regeneration. These regenerative practitioners either intentionally or intuitively knew that regenerative societies start with people who know how to regenerate themselves: mentally, emotionally, and physically. 

With these larger goals in mind, I am taking a moment for my own creative regeneration and reflecting on these three inspiring regenerative mini systems that powerfully nesting in their local and global communities. 

Playa Viva regenerative retreat center in Mexico,

First, we have Playa Viva near Juluchuca, Mexico (along the coast). As discussed in a previous post on regenerative equity, Playa Viva is much more than an eco-friendly, solar powered tourist destination (although they do steward resources wisely with solar and onsite water treatment). This retreat center and hotel has been an integral part of restoring the local forest and founding a sea turtle sanctuary. Beyond these restorative practices, Playa Viva has also worked to bolster their communities ability to self organize by providing job training in permaculture farming practices and by supporting the local health clinic. Playa Viva is an astounding example of nested living systems influencing larger systems for net positive impacts on people and the environment. Yet, they are also grounded in the concepts of self care and holistic wellness.

CO Project Farm in Portugal–a regenerative ‘Brain Spa for Creative Optimists’

One newer case study comes from Unschool’s founder Dr. Leyla Acoraglu. The CO Project Farm or ‘Brain spa for creative optimists’ is a regenerative retreat center in rural Portugal near Serra, Tomar. The site was a run down, abandoned olive farm (Yes, it’s very Under the Tuscan Sun.) that is being restored to a place for environmentally-minded individuals and groups to refresh and find the next inspiration to continue moving our world towards regenerative sustainability. The Farm offers workshops in self development through cooking as well as various hands on trainings in sustainability methods, such as creating a food forest. Again we see the pattern of developing your own skills, soaking up inspiration, and resting as the starting point and the continued support for regenerative design.

Rendering of the proposed regenerative development called Nunduk luxury spa in Australia,

Finally, we see the developing plans for a ‘Luxury Spa’ called Nunduk in Seacombe in Victoria, Australia. This spa will be built on the edge of Lake Wellington which is a severely degraded ecosystem from salt water intrusion. The plan is to go beyond conservation of what remains to restoring wetlands and promoting the return of biodiversity. Additionally, in their planning process, they have included a local indigenous leader among other community representatives to ensure the project will also support cultural inclusion and equity, as well as help build the local economy (Hes et al, 2018). It is yet to be seen how this spa will in practice help support individual, community, and ecological vitality, but the development process has shown great promise. Seacombe’s willingness to allow the community and regenerative frameworks guide their professional self development has them started in a grounded space that I hope to see continue through the building and site maintenance stages.

Maybe one day soon I will find derelict property or anthropogenically damaged slice of land that with become the next regenerative retreat center. The Regenerative Nest would become the guide for the redesign, restoration, and plan for co-evolving with nature. Regenerative sustainability professionals would come find a haven and maybe a home there. Habits for self care and maintenance would fuel the ideas that would grow regenerative societies near and far… Yet for the moment, I am letting this idea simmer and percolate as a way to push me forward, as I complete this small piece of the puzzle: learning to educate our future practitioners about the theory and methods of regenerative design.

Works Cited

Brundiers, K., & Wiek, A. (2017). Beyond Interpersonal Competence: Teaching and Learning Professional Skills in Sustainability. Education Sciences, 7(1), 39.

Hes, D., Stephan, A., & Moosavi, S. (2018). Evaluating the Practice and Outcomes of Applying Regenerative Development to a Large-Scale Project in Victoria, Australia. Sustainability, 10(2), 460.


Image by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash

In revisiting my literature review, nearly a year after writing it, in light of personal hardships and the global COVID 19 pandemic, I find myself magnetically drawn to the nearly hidden concept of self-development through self-care that is a common but ironically underdeveloped thread in regenerative design theories and methodology. As I created the Regenerative Nest, I included these ideas, but not as a foundational part of the Nest, merely as a side-note under cooperation. Understandably, in the highly altruistic focused fields of social and environmental sustainability, we put self-care and developments to the side. The ever growing urgency of the causes we dedicate our time, our careers, and our lives to certainly demand that we act now and think of ourselves later. Or is it that in acting too quickly, carrying our burdens alone, and neglecting ourselves, that we are continuing the very systems and processes we so desperately want to dissolve?

As I develop my primary research methodology, I have a vision that the Regenerative Nest can be an educational framework, likely presented in the form of a thoughtful, interactive card deck (both in print and digitally). (See a preliminary sketch of the card deck below and how it could focus on each ring of the nest with different activities and potentially through a game.) Yet, for my thesis design project, I understand my limitations of time and the need for additional development of all aspects of the model with expert feedback. Therefore, my current plan is to focus my research and design project development on one seemingly small, but timely aspect of the Nest—what I am calling—Regenerative Self-Care. 

Preliminary sketch of the Regenerative Nest educational tool/game

The focus of my primary research is: How might Regenerative Self-Care into regenerative design through regenerative higher education help further ‘sustainability competencies’ (Wiek et al., 2011)? First, to gather information I the current state of self-care in sustainability fields, I will conduct a survey with recent graduates of higher education sustainability program graduates (across universities and disciplines, such as in science, design, and the social sciences). I will combine this primary research with the findings of some secondary articles, such as those on professional self-development by authors Brundiers and Wiek (2017) who has studied and championed higher education sustainability competencies for many years. Then, I plan to strategically and intentionally incorporating Regenerative Self-Care into the Regenerative Nest (see preliminary sketches below), and prototype a workshop with undergraduate students. The workshop will gauge their current understanding of self-care as well as expose them to the Regenerative Nest framework and a digital version of the tool (as all studies will be conducted virtually due to pandemic safety concerns). 

Option 1 for expressing the role of self-development and care
Option 2 for expressing the role of self-development and care

I anticipate that the data collected will help provide a baseline for understanding the potential effects that a focus on Regenerative Self-Care can bring. Moreover, the pre-test for the Regenerative Nest prototyping session will help control for prior knowledge. However, there will not be sufficient time and resources for a longitudinal study that would provide more concrete evidence of potential effects. It will also be challenging to control variables, such as differentiating between the effects of the Regenerative Nest as a whole versus the Regenerative Self-Care portion of the model. Nevertheless, the data will help show if the Regenerative Nest is worth further development and study as a tool for Regenerative Higher Education and furthering the development of the ‘sustainability competencies’ (Wiek et al., 2011) in higher education.

In the coming week or so, I will be researching previous studies for assessing self-care practices and tailoring the methodology to the theories around Regenerative Self-Care as described by existing literature. I will also begin designing the Regenerative Nest tool and recruiting for and planning a prototyping session.

Works Cited

Brundiers, K., & Wiek, A. (2017). Beyond Interpersonal Competence: Teaching and Learning Professional Skills in Sustainability. Education Sciences, 7(1), 39.

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.


Image by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

After nearly a year of putting my regenerative higher education thesis on hold for work, other classes, teaching, and sustainability club pursuits, I am back at it. The next step in the thesis journey is primary research, something I have scoped about a dozen times since last fall, only to hit practical or motivational dead ends. For example, I had planned to visit sustainability centers at various universities to see what is already working towards a regenerative model and what still could be improved by incorporating regenerative theories and tools. However, the COVID 19 Pandemic caused changes in plan for more than just my own flights and research. The entire hasn’t changed in every way, but everywhere, all people in ways we could not have imagined as 2020 began have changed.

As someone who has been in various sustainability fields for nearly a decade, sustainable behavior change or any behavior change is a perplexing challenge that we constantly strive to manipulate in order to mend our global ecological and social commons. Behavior change and lifestyle change often seem elusive and slow. Yet, here we are in a Pandemic, here we are in an era of unprecedented natural disasters from Climate Change. Behaviors have changed very fast.

Couple walking in NYC, wearing masks . Image by Julian Wan on Unsplash

Without dismissing the backlash to science and justice nor the pain everyone is feeling and the healing that is needed, it is clear that a lot has changed. People have started wearing masks on a daily basis in the United States and offices lie empty as millions work from home. Streets are being reserved for restaurants, walkers, and bikers. Most people have made some sort of sacrifice for the common good, many have stepped up to provide for their communities, and incredible multitudes are using the privilege of new found time to learn, grow, and advocate for social and environmental causes. Yet, one thing that seems still elusive is the idea of rest and self-care in combination with all this change.

The call for rest and self-care seems to have increased exponentially. There are entire social media accounts dedicated to the idea such as The Nap Ministry where rest is promoted as a form of resistance to social & racial injustice (through not as a replacement for other forms of resistance work). “The Rise of Rest and Healing” is even included as one of “Six Shifts” in Design Impact’s recent COVID 19 and Racial Equity report. In the US we are collectively experiencing a trauma, and collectively learning how to respond. Rest and self-care are of course not new, but it often is portrayed as a meme.

Some of us feel constantly unworthy of self-care—telling ourselves we need to do more or work harder and at the same time feeling guilty for not doing it or feel guilty when hit a wall and have to take a break.

Image source:

At the same time, we can also use the name of self-care as an excuse for doing something that may be seen as unwise or frivolous: shopping, taking time for a bath or other grooming rituals, eating out, or binging a TV show.

Image Source:

Although I believe these things could fit well into a self-care and self-development routine, I think these things are often the superficial manifestation of a deeper search for healing, growth, and kindness for ourselves and others. It is clear we have not yet normalized practice of self-care.

In assembling the principals and theories of Regenerative Design, I originally overlooked signals towards self-development and self-care. It was not until nearly the end of my literature review that I discovered this common thread. Then, while diving into the idea of regenerative cooperation, I made the discovery that multiple texts cite by my foundational authors point to self-development and self-care as crucial to the path of regenerative cooperation. Regenesis et al. (2016) claimed that, “developing oneself,” was one of “three agents that are required to support and sustain regenerative work,”—arguing that self-development is required to develop the capability of a team or community. According to Hes and du Plessis (2015), a major part of self-development is learning self-care. Self-care allows us to build the empathy and energy needed to do complex regenerative sustainability work (Hes & du Plessis, 2015). One part of regenerative cooperation that is as important if not more important than self-development is building the capabilities of others by promoting equity in the systems on which you are working. Other seminal sustainability authors are also surfacing as advocates for self-development and/or self care as I dive deeper into this topic, including Peter Senge, and Otto Scharmer.

In this current time of pure uncertainty and loss—loss of security of the objects, systems, and values we took for granted—I feel it is appropriate to turn my attention to the important aspect of all social and environmental sustainability work, that I believe will be essential to truly achieving a regeneratively designed society: self-development through Regenerative Self-Care.

Works Cited

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

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

Regenerative Nest

Photo by Landon Martin on Unsplash

This post is all about exposing my mental model for regenerative concepts and how to incubate regenerative societies in the Regenerative Nest.

While working on my thesis literature review, I was collecting regenerative concepts, synthesizing them and finding overlap from many sources. My brain was constantly trying to organize how these concepts built on each other and related to one another in order to better teach them to undergraduates.

I looked at the LENSES and REGEN models as examples of regenerative tools that could be applied to actual practice. I looked at CLEAR’s Regenerative Development Principles. I scrutinized my framework against the Peter Senge’s 5 Disciplines and Wiek et al’s sustainability competencies for higher education. I even looked back to my own nested systems diagram that was inspired by Kate Raworth’s embedded economy diagram. Finally, I examined a regenerative spa, Playa Viva‘s, Regenerative Concept Map and a diagram from Regenesis Group around a regenerative practitioners three lines of work in their book Regenerative Development and Design: A Framework for Evolving Sustainability to see if my model was missing anything. After much iterating and tweaking I have settled (for the time being) on the following model.

© 2019 Lara Isaacson
© 2019 Lara Isaacson

To interact with this model, you start at the outermost circle and work your way in. The living systems (or ecological) worldview is the foundational element that enables the rest of the work. Then systems thinking guides the practitioner in how to think which leads to the knowledge that cooperation (with careful attention to equity and self-development) is necessary to build a regenerative society. Place literacy in terms of both culture and ecology provide a research foundation for doing the work of putting restoration and co-evolutionary processes into motion. Each layer builds upon the other strengthening and warming the nest so that a thriving future can be created.

This model is meant to be a big broad in order to apply across may disciplines and interdisciplinary projects. This model could be well supplemented with more specific tools such as LENSES from CLEAR or REGEN from USGBC.

The model can also be abstracted as shown below to better see the relationships of each part with the whole. Just like systems of all sizes are nested in and interconnected with each other, so are the concepts of regenerative practice. I hope that this model can be useful in helping other develop their own mental models and that it can help shed light on regenerative concepts.

© 2019 Lara Isaacson

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.

Design for Regeneration

Teaching Sustainability

In order to learn how to best teach regenerative concepts I looked to how sustainability is taught at the undergraduate level (since regenerative practice is building upon the practices of sustainability) Many find merit in the ‘problem-based’ or ‘project based learning’ methods which involves hands-on learning to engage students (Brundiers & Wiek, 2013; Mindt & Rieckmann, 2017; Steinemann, 2003). Behind this method choice is a pedagogy called constructivism. With constructivism, the theory is that students construct and retain knowledge with their own interpretation through active engagement with the material, rather than passive learning methods such as lecture or textbooks (Hedden et al., 2017). 

Although the same terms are not used in various case studies, the core ideas remain the same. Some classroom case studies, using the constructivist approach resulted in tangible products, such as a chicken coup for the school farm (Hedden et al., 2017) and others, using the problem-based learning approach, centered-around presenting plans to school administrators for improving campus sustainability (Steinemann, 2003). However, the common links were working on realistic project and problems while allowing the students a large degree of freedom to build solutions and their own understandings (Hedden et al., 2017; Steinemann, 2003). Often these case studies incorporated outside stakeholders in their class projects which also may have also attributed to their success (Hedden et al., 2017; Steinemann, 2003). Overall, the consensus seems to be that sustainability is complex and does not have definite answer, making it best for students’ learning to use a hands-on approach with real issues, such as through the problem or project based learning or constructivist teaching approaches (Brundiers & Wiek, 2013).

What is Design?

Design as a set of fields and a practice is inherently constructivist. Design thinking helps take theory and put it into practice and is focused on solving difficult and complex issues. Design is the cultivated process of framing and reframing a problem (Schön, 1983) and ‘conversing’ with the ‘materials,’ subjects, venue, and medium in order to innovate (Buchanan, 1992, Suri, 2017, & Schön, 1983). A designer does not solve simple problems with simple answers (Rittel and Webber,1974). It takes distilling a certain level of chaos and managing many variables mixed with a creative, innovative mindset to design. Creativity, like any other skill, is developed through practice (Simon, 1999). Creativity enables a designer to synthesizes divergent ideas into a cohesive product. Since creativity is a skill, design can be taught. 

Connecting Design and Regeneration

Given that design methods are tailored for solving complex issues, design is very much at home in sustainable problem solving. Design is naturally about project and problem-based learning. Given that these methods have been shown as effective for teaching sustainability to undergraduates, I am proceeding with the idea that regenerative concepts can also best be taught by using design methods for project and problem-based learning. Teaching regenerative practice with a design lens will help students development an actionable practice, regardless of their field. The pedagogy of constructivist teaching will guide my design project, as I continue with my thesis and develop a tool for teaching regenerative concepts.

Works Cited:

Brundiers, K., & Wiek, A. (2013). Do We Teach What We Preach? An International Comparison of Problem- and Project-Based Learning Courses in Sustainability. Sustainability, 5(4), 1725–1746.

Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked Problems in Design Thinking. Design Issues, 8(2), 5–21. Retrieved from JSTOR.

Hedden, M. K., Worthy, R., Akins, E., Slinger-Friedman, V., & Paul, R. C. (2017). Teaching Sustainability Using an Active Learning Constructivist Approach: Discipline-Specific Case Studies in Higher Education. Sustainability, 9(8), 1320.

Mindt, L., & Rieckmann, M. (2017). Developing competencies for sustainability-driven entrepreneurship in higher education: A literature review of teaching and learning methods. Teoría de la Educación. Revista Interuniversitaria, 29(1 (en-jun)), 129-159–159.

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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.

Cultivation and Regenerative Equity Part II

Photo by Micheile Henderson  on Unsplash

In my last post (Part I) we explored how regenerative agriculture and permaculture are leading the way in understanding the role of equity in regenerative practice and how equity is an essential part of cooperation. In this post we look at a few examples of how equity has been woven into existing regenerative projects. Imperfect as they may be, each example represents an effort to raise capabilities and bring opportunities to groups of people that may have otherwise been left out of projects without a regenerative lens.

Photo credit: Playa Viva

First, Playa Viva, the regenerative spa in Mexico provides an incredible example of working with the local community, not only to create or bolster environmentally friendly jobs but in giving to local schools and the local medical clinic. They know the jobs such as salt drying or at the turtle sanctuary will help restore rather than deplete the local environment and respect culturally traditional occupations while providing livelihoods for locals. The school and clinic protect the physical health of the community while providing for its future. These are essential elements of moving beyond sustaining today into creating an equitable, self-regenerating tomorrow.

Brattleboro Co-op, Photo by: Kevin O’Connor

Regenesis Group had played a role in the planning of Playa Viva and also in the planning of Brattleboro Co-op, a grocery store that wanted to build a new location that reflected its sustainable values. In order, “to support the revitalization of its community, region, and foodshed, the co-op began to look for ways to grow the value‐generating capability of local farmers, landowners, and food processors as well as for ways to grow its own internal capability to truly serve all of its stakeholders. This led to the creation of a hundred‐year plan as a source of direction.” Looking beyond what the co-op could do for itself and how it could help restore its struggling agricultural community is what makes this project an example of equitable practice. Instead of simply tacking-on energy saving practices–as originally planned–Regenesis helped them see who was not included in their current system influence and how to improve the collective resilience of the community. Building social resilience, sets a community up to to regenerate or continually reinvent itself for a more abundant future.

The Brattleboro co-op case study shows how an organization can become an instrument of regenerative change. For this to be possible, the organization needs to take an outward focus: it must see itself as a living system nested within the larger living systems of the community and the region. Only then can it becomes an integral member of the community, able to participate in the regeneration of the whole for the benefit of all.

Regenesis Group
The Bullitt Center, Photo Credit: Benjamin Benschneider & Discover Magazine

Another example comes from a Living Building Challenge (LBC) certified building: The Bullitt Center–where International Living Future Institute (ILFI) is housed. On a systemic level, they, “work with all levels of government to identify and lower barriers to entry for future high-performance structures. Groundbreaking policy such as Seattle DPD’s Living Building Pilot program, King County’s Zero-Discharge Capacity Charge legislation, and the Washington State Department of Health’s innovative policies to allow the project to pursue net-zero water, are all examples of the project’s effort to advance green building policy for all projects.” They put their resources toward paving the way for others, ensuring that regenerative practice are not only possible for developers with ample time and money to ask for code variances.

The Frick Environmental Center, Photo by: Ed Massery

The Frick Environmental Center, another LBC certified building, “affords the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy the opportunity to expand existing environmental education programs to a broader audience. These programs, which today reach nearly 1700 students from varying neighborhoods, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds from over twenty schools, are expected to grow over the years with the additional capacity of the new Center. Additional adult, community, and youth programs have already been developed, and outreach programs have been implemented in underserved communities, as part of continued efforts to engage more people with the nature that surrounds them in Pittsburgh.” The center drives intentional outreach to communities that otherwise may not feel welcome or accepted or have knowledge about environmental spaces. Those who have grown up in these spaces may not realize the privilege to physically or culturally access these spaces where environmnetal knowledge is cultivated. Only through self-reflection and seeking the truth can we address the privilege we take for granted. This type of social justice action, however, is at the core of regenerative cooperation.

Until we are all free, we are none of us free.

Emma Lazarus, American Poet 1800’s
Indian Creek Nature Center, Photo by Liz Zabel

Finally, another LBC Certified project that is built on the foundations of cultivating equity is the Indian Creek Nature Center. The Center is not only accessible by bike as well as follows ADA regulation and Universal Design Principles, it also, “focuses on connecting people with the environment, creating a more sustainable community, and creating champions of nature. To do that, making the space accessible to everyone, regardless of economic means, is important. The Nature Center site and grounds are free and open to the public every day from 6am to 10pm…The building offers a climate controlled space, drinking fountain, public bathrooms, and community spaces visitors can relax in.” Revitalizing public space is a key to promoting a more equitable future. Aside from identity disadvantages, people are also born into or fall into economic disadvantages. True public space sends the message that each person has inherent value regardless of economic circumstances.

Each of these examples fall short of complete systemic change, yet they begin to show us access points for tangible projects that can create positive ripples across the system. Choosing not to ignore the underlying social issues of your place and addressing issues of inequity head-on is where the change starts. The more projects that hold space for equitable change, the more we will see the system shift. If the entire goal of regenerative design and/or practice is the make systems create and restore rather than degenerate, and give more than they take, then equity and reversing social inequality must be at the core of cooperative action. With so many examples today of how to promote equity in all forms (including race, ability, gender, sexuality, socio-economic status, etc), there is no excuse to overlook each of our roles is creating a more equitable world.