The concept of regenerative business is pushing the sustainability movement toward courageous action in response to the worsening environmental crises of our time.  To reverse the trajectory of accelerating climate change, pollution, resource depletion, and associated human suffering, it is not enough to sustain neutral impacts.  What is truly required is a commitment to repair and restore the damage done and shift the extractive relationship between people and planet to a nourishing relationship that ensures a better future.  

A term borrowed from ecosystem science, regenerative, in the business context, refers to the continual building and replenishing of natural capital, resources, materials, and people. The result is a healthier business ecosystem from which a business can thrive, with a positive long-term outlook. 

Influenced by the concepts of circular economy and other systems thinking frameworks, the regenerative approach adopts aspirational goals of net-positive impact.  In simplest terms, leaving the world a better place as a result of business practices, decisions, and relationships.  No matter whether the corner store or a Fortune 500, the call to level-up, innovate, and collaborate toward net positive impacts creates tremendous opportunity for leadership, brand identity, profits, and longevity.  Specifically, regenerative practices build new market opportunities, costs savings and efficiencies, secure supply-relationships, and loyal customers/clients.   

One the most well-known proponents of this business philosophy, the iconic apparel brand Patagonia, was a pioneer of organic cotton. Then, several years ago they upped their commitment to go “beyond organic” by supporting production practices that build soil, sequester carbon, and increase livelihoods.  As Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario explains, “If we don’t act now, and act boldly, we give up the planet”.   Accordingly, the company invests a significant portion of profits back into the supply chain, communities, and a variety of innovations; is helping to launch the Regenerative Organic Agriculture standard for carbon friendly farming; and remains one of the most well recognized and forward-thinking brands on the planet.  [1]

Investing in regenerative practices, especially during Covid-19 times, assures a certain level of business resiliency.  In fact, as Carol Sanford, author of ‘The Regenerative Business’, explains, “Regeneration goes beyond resilience or sustainability. Whatever is resilient, restored, robust, or sustainable resists or recovers from shocks and stays the same. Shocks make a regenerative business better. It rebounds and has the capacity to do more and be more”. [2]

The practical applications and opportunities of this approach could be applied to energy, waste management, agriculture, transportation, community engagement and other key business functions and impact areas.

For example, thanks to the advances of renewable energy technology, Net Zero or Net Positive Energy buildings are now possible under the right circumstances.  That is, on an annual basis, the building footprint (or nearby site) could produce as much as or more energy than it actually uses.  Why buy energy from the utility when you can produce your own energy on site, sell it back, and remain resilient to fluctuating energy costs?   Given the low costs of photovoltaic (PV) installation, energy efficiency technologies that reduce overall loads, availability of rebates and incentives, and advances in building design, these types of buildings are becoming more realistic[3]

In another example, Regenerative Agriculture is an increasingly popular and hopeful food trend[4]. It consists of farming practices that restore ecosystem services, with particular focus on building soil health to sequester and store carbon from the atmosphere, one of the most immediate and important solutions for addressing climate change.[5]  Carbon farming practices include not tilling the soil, planting carbon absorbing crops, building organic soil fertility, and preventing soil loss and erosion.  We recently helped incorporate these practices into the fabric of the California Green Business Network.

Food and fiber purchasers, manufacturers and restaurants, have opportunities to invest in these practices at the source of the supply chain.  One EI project, for example, is a collaboration with Bay Area food business incubator, café, and manufacturer, KitchenTown, to roll out the Zero Foodprint Initiative to forward thinking restaurants throughout the Bay Area.  This program allows consumers to contribute 1% of their food bill to verified, quantifiable  carbon farming projects.   “It’s like improving the grid – for food,”  according to the non-profit Zero Foodprint’s website.   Businesses could also make these type of carbon investments through organizations such the Carbonfund and terrapass.

To promote transportation alternatives, a business can choose to invest in infrastructure that not only benefits their own employees, but also contributes to improvement of the overall transportation landscape.  For example, installing EV charging stations that are available to the public or extending company vanpools to nearby businesses. Also, and increasingly relevant for our time, creating a functional tele-commuting plan not only reduces transportation impacts, but also creates long-term resiliency for teams, customers, and collaborators to continue to operate virtually, even when the physical office is shut down.[6] 

Zero Waste is an attainable goal that many major corporations have already committed to through recycling, reuse, and most importantly eliminating waste at the source.[7]  Waste can also be used as fuel for regeneration. For examples, we  look to composting of food waste into soil amendments, upcycling scraps and byproducts into useful materials,  and turning waste itself into energy through biodigestion.  At smaller scales, robust donation programs for used equipment, furniture, or materials could help stimulate the small business community. 

For an example related to water conservation in the built environment, Low Impact Development (LID) techniques such as pervious pavement, bioswales and rain gardens can capture, cleanse and infiltrate polluted runoff; protecting local waterways and recharging the groundwater. [8]  EI implements these techniques for both municipal and business clients.

Finally, the concept of regenerative business translates directly into community leadership by continually asking the question of how to use a business’s position and platform to positively influence partners, customers, suppliers and the communities in which it operates.  How can a company, institution, or agency inspire adoption of a net positive mindset throughout its sector?  Which relationships and collaborations will allow the type of investments to take place for long term, measurable, and regenerative impacts?

Environmental Innovations can help identify opportunities for these types of innovations.  We build the partnerships, technical expertise, and execution strategy to make lasting impact, build enduring businesses, and create a hopeful future.  

Contact us for a free consultation.