Our book, “Regeneration: The Future of Community in a Permacrisis World,” is an exploration. We don’t have the answers, but we started with these questions –
- How do we define regeneration?
- What does the process of regeneration look like?
- What specifically do we plan on regenerating?
- Where does regeneration take place?
- Who does the regenerating?
- Where should we begin?
- How can you make a difference?
The etymology of the word regeneration is traced to the mid-14 century, regeneracioun, “act of regenerating or producing anew,” originally spiritual, also of the Resurrection, from Old French regeneracion (Modern French regénération) and directly from Late Latin regenerationem “a being born again,” noun of action from past participle stem of Latin regenerare “make over, generate again,” from re- “again” + generare “bring forth, beget, produce,” from genus “race, kind.” Originally theological, “radical spiritual change in an individual accomplished by the action of God;” of animal tissue, “power or process of growing again,” early 15c.; of forests, 1888.
Here are some other traditional definitions of regeneration:
- “the act of improving a place or system, especially by making it more active or successful” – Cambridge dictionary
- the process of being “restored to a better, higher, or more worthy state” – Merriam-Webster
It was Bill Reed who emphasized the regenerative role of designers and stakeholders in creating a whole system of mutually beneficial relationships. His diagram on the “Trajectory of Environmentally Responsible Design” is a classic – which has been beautifully adapted by others, including Daniel Christian Wahl. Daniel Christian Wahl’s adaptation of Reed’s work is important because it situates this regenerative design framework as a tool for redesigning culture.
Our adaptation (below) focuses on the Common Good, because, frankly, without it, regeneration is destined to become just another “green-washing” buzzword. (Does anyone believe Wal-Mart is a regenerative company?)
So, what are we trying to regenerate?
Our search for a definition of regeneration led us to a model for regeneration developed by a conclave of 64 grass-roots organizations and 80 leaders in the summer of 2019 – the United Frontline Table (UFT). Their work – which proposes a shift to a Regenerative Economy, is based on deep listening and collaboration from frontline communities. (This thinking is not generally encountered in the board room.)
Which brings us to the our principal point:
Without the Common Good, there is no true regeneration.
This is our message.
Thus, our definition of regeneration:
Regeneration is a process of rebuilding or renewal of the Common Good – taking an asset, resource, ecosystem, individual, family, organization, community, or place, from crisis and collapse to recovery and renewal.
But how do we define the Common Good?
There are 9 Domains of the Common Good: Social, Economics, Nature, Work, Culture, Media, Law, Technology, and Politics.
Regeneration includes 5 Worlds, interconnected and interdependent – the individual, community, work, the Nation, and the Planet. (We’ll look deeper at this in another post)
Our position is this. The Climate Crisis and the Collapse of Society are both symptoms of the same fatal sickness: the destruction of the Common Good. We cannot compartmentalize the climate and separate it from the rest of society or our activities.
Even Bill Gates gets this – to an extent:
When I started this work, my biggest focus was global health, because it’s the worst inequity in the world and it’s a solvable problem. That’s still the case today. But as time went on—and as the disastrous consequences of a warming world became more evident—it became clear that you can’t improve life for the world’s poorest without also tackling climate change.
Climate change and global health are inextricably linked. Hotter temperatures will make poverty reduction harder by increasing food insecurity and the prevalence of infectious diseases and diverting resources away from those who need them the most. It’s a vicious cycle. The poorer a community is, the more vulnerable it is to climate change. And the more impacted a community is by extreme weather events, the more entrenched in poverty it becomes. To break the cycle, we need to make progress on both problems at the same time.
When I talk to people about this, I often hear the same response: “There isn’t enough time or money to solve both at the same time.” But this idea that we can only tackle one thing at a time is just wrong. I’m stubborn in my belief that with the right innovations and delivery channels to get them to the vulnerable, we’re capable of making progress on lots of big problems at once—even at a time when the world faces multiple crises.
Why stop there, Bill? Why not look at all of it?
What is stopping us from addressing the world’s most urgent challenges?
Regeneration is the Big Shift
The shift from self-interest to common-interest is the pre-requisite for the shift to regeneration. There are two ways to achieve this shift – either intellectually, followed by action, or behaviorally, where we act first, and our thinking follows. For some, actions speak louder than words. For them it is better to get started on a regenerative project, and the mindset of regeneration will follow.
Regeneration is a Process
Regeneration is a process – applied to the 9 domains. Again, we turn to the United Frontline Table, the collective made up of grass roots and indigenous organizations, to define the process of regeneration:
The process of regeneration follows indigenous traditions: to protect, repair, invest, transform and learn – rooted in the past and looking forward, seven generations ahead.
- PROTECT: to save, conserve, prevent collapse, or extinction; solutions must protect, not harm, our communities – the people and the natural ecosystems around them.
- REPAIR: to restore or fix the damage; solutions must repair the harms of our extractive economy.
- INVEST: to dedicate resources to improvement; solutions must move non-extractive and equitable investments to our communities and workers; create/nurture new capabilities and skills that are required; and
- TRANSFORM: to enliven, make successful – with the final stage being one of thriving and flourishing – a state of stability and resiliency. Solutions must provide the foundation to transform relationships and structures so that they are rooted in respect, equity, and justice.
Regeneration is a dynamic process – an extension of the famous S-curve. In fact, there’s a double, even triple, S-curve.