Beyond Sustainability Into Regenerative Business

Posted on Posted in Circular Economy, Ethical Business, Sustainability Comms

Having said I’m starting here afresh and letting years of old content simply dissolve into the ether, I’ve decided that some pieces are worth preserving. Almost 2 years ago to the day, my husband @FlavourMonkey wrote a piece on our old Fox+Monkey blog that is most definitely worth revisiting. I’ve edited it slightly to bring it up to date, and added a few thoughts of my own in relation to regenerative business and the circular economy at the end. Here it is:

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Changed Priorities Ahead

Sustainability – What are we aiming for?

I was recently reminded of this very literal traffic sign on Bristol’s St. Mary Redcliffe roundabout. I snapped the photo while out exploring my ‘new’ city a few years ago, and its figurative significance was not lost on me. I had completely forgotten about it, however, until a couple of days ago when a friend of mine shared a photo of that same sign. Last night, while watching regenerative design specialist Matthew Lynch’s 2011 talk, ‘Beyond Sustainability: The Story of a Reformed Capitalist’, I was reminded again. It would seem no matter the road, the path always gets narrower the longer you travel it.

You see, like Lynch, I too am a reformed Capitalist. There, I said it. My journey of reformation brought me to Bristol and it was here that I was finally able to shed that old threadbare thinking. Aside from the occasional wandering glance at a Rolls Royce Wraith, for instance, that world and its wanton ways has lost all its lustre for me. Today I can’t even get my (not undersized) head around that way of thinking. This shift hasn’t happened overnight. I’ve been helped immeasurably by my wonderful wife and all my other kinfolk I’ve met along the way. It took me a couple of years just to detox from the constant bombardment of consumerist messaging I had exposed myself to in the Good Ole US of A. After years of looking outside myself for answers in a hopelessly fruitless upwardly mobile trajectory I needed to feel the earth under my feet again. The landing was a bit bumpy but as the old adage goes, “Any landing you can walk away from is a good one.” I haven’t looked back since. Instead, I looked within and finally answered the whispering voice honestly.

These days terms like ‘sustainability’ and ‘social justice’ garner the greatest influence on my moral compass. While painful at first, those once difficult choices have made most of my nights since restful. Uncommon sense has become common sense, a working part of both my brain and being. And then the path got narrower. Isn’t it strange how we can read or hear the same words many times over before we fully acknowledge the truth they contain? I know very little now, but I realise more and more with each new go that I’m given. Last night, it was pointed out how woefully incomplete a goal like ‘sustainability’ is. Forget for a minute that the word itself has been co-opted and packaged by the same corporate greendoctors (who once sold me the American dream) for immediate on-trend consumption. If we look at the actual meaning of the word, in its most simple terms it is ‘the ability to sustain’. Now let’s look closer at the meaning of sustain:


sustain

– [suhsteyn] – verb (used with object)

  1. to support, hold, or bear up from below; bear the weight of, as a structure.
  2. to bear (a burden, charge, etc.).
  3. to undergo, experience, or suffer (injury, loss, etc.); endure without giving way or yielding.
  4. to keep (a person, the mind, the spirits, etc.) from giving way, asunder trial or affliction.
  5. to keep up or keep going, as an action or process: to sustain a conversation.
  6. to supply with food, drink, and other necessities of life.
  7. to provide for (an institution or the like) by furnishing means or funds.

Not exactly full of positivity is it? Sure we are faced with a far more ominous reality than one of a merely sustainable future, but it’s hardly a lofty goal. If I asked you how something or someone that you cared deeply and passionately about was going or doing and you responded with “sustainable”, it sure wouldn’t fill me with confidence. So how ’bout we aim for things like harmony, unity and love? And if we fall short and only land on sustainability then at least we’re still in the game. If we’re gonna dream then let’s dream big! Let’s tell the Universe what we really want, take action toward that goal and, most importantly, let go of how exactly it comes to be.

So with these goals in mind what do our priorities look like? Well for us the 3 ‘P’s of Enterprise are People, Planet and Profit, in that order. If we go about our business treating ourselves, each other and the world around us in the way we would like to be treated, then we will always reap the rewards.

How does that work? Really well, if given the opportunity.

So, no, profit is not a dirty word. In the words of Matthew Lynch, “Profits are the economic surplus of a well managed enterprise.”

James Bridges, 2014

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So words can fire us up and bring us down. Inspire us to be better, or send us to sleep. Words and stories transform us. Even if you’ve already seen it, I thoroughly recommend you click through and watch Matthew’s TEDxHonolulu talk. He outlines his Six Principles of Regenerative Business which he articulated after asking, what if we were to start adapting and applying permaculture design principles to the context of redesigning our businesses and enterprises? In case you don’t have 20 minutes viewing time right now, here they are:

A regenerative enterprise…

  1. Invests in regenerative assets.
  2. Contributes to communities.
  3. Collaborates before it competes.
  4. Competes constructively – raises the bar.
  5. Crafts lasting products, delivers remarkable services.
  6. Looks after People. Planet. Profits. In that order.

Compelling stuff, huh? Both the concept and messaging. I can get far more excited about a world where instead of trying to minimise our impact, we design/redesign our businesses and enterprises to maximise our positive impact on the planet. And what if we applied the same idea to our day to day lives?

So beyond humdrum sustainability, we have the altogether more inspiring target of regenerative enterprise. Hurray! Now we know what we’re aiming for, right? Well, sort of, yes. Except… isn’t today’s future all about transitioning to a circular economy? Or is that the same thing?

And it’s these questions I’m going to focus on in a second part of this post where I’ll continue these thoughts on words, language and stories and their importance to ours and the planet’s future. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts arising from this one. Please do comment below. Let’s chew this cud together!

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