Going Beyond Sustainability | Omega

The word "sustainability" is used so liberally and often that it has lost some of its meaning. A small but growing number of ecological thinkers and professionals are using the term "regenerative" in place of sustainability, but what exactly does it mean? These Omega teachers explain.

Abrah Dresdale, a permaculture designer living in Massachusetts, tells Omega:
"The definition for permaculture I like to give is: Permaculture is a practice of going out into nature, observing the patterns and principles in ecosystems, and then mimicking those patterns and principles in the design of systems that meet our needs as people while at the same time regenerating the land and then regenerating our societal systems, economic systems, health-care systems, food systems, etc. In permaculture we’re trying to go beyond sustainability. 
Regenerative design is about regenerating the abundance of the world, regenerating human and social capital, rebuilding relationships in communities that have been disenfranchised and isolated. Regenerative design is a system that builds capacity over time in a self-maintaining way."
Keith Zaltzberg, an environmental designer and educator, says: 
“Regenerative design imagines humans as a keystone species that don't just do the least harm but actually do the most good in building the capacity of all of our human systems and rebuilding the capacity of natural systems to support diverse, healthy, robust life systems.”
Dave Jacke, an ecological landscape and cultural designer working in the field for more than three decades, says:
"[Regenerative design means]...consciously designing a system that regenerates the health and functioning of the ecosystem, while meeting our own needs. That means the systems that we design will purify the air, purify the water, rebuild the soil, increase diversity, and create self-regulating and self-maintaining, self-renewing ecosystems. 
I think we need to strive for a culture that generates landscapes and societies that create air and water as clean or cleaner than wilderness does. All the models we have are damaged. All the ecosystems we have on the planet have been damaged by humans in some way. None of us really knows what true healthy wilderness is or was. That’s impossible for us to know, but we can make some very good guesses."
Carol Sanford, a thought leader who has been using the term "regenerative" since the 1970s, especially in the realm of business, writes:
"[Regeneration is] a paradigm and accompanying set of capabilities that consider any life form as singular, able to express and grow itself to contribute that essential singularity, over time, to nested wholes in which it is embedded, with reciprocity. It can only be regenerated if pursued as a value-adding process.
As a paradigm, regeneration is based on ideas and beliefs about how the world really works. Not how it should work but does. It differs from a worldview, which is how we ought to live, whereas a paradigm is what we count as knowledge. Regeneration has its basis in science of living systems.[…]Seeing any entity or endeavor as a value adding process means to see it alive and unfolding toward more of its essence. More of who or what it is!"

© 2016 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies