“It’s important we get clear that a regenerative economy is not sustainability, and it’s certainly not where we are today. And it’s not what most of us engage with on a daily basis when we’re trying to be – a little less bad, a little more green, a little more sustainable,” said Hunter Lovins, the Founder and President of Natural Capital Solutions. “Those are all vital steps; rungs on the ladder out of the muck of where we are now. All of them are important. Less bad is good. It’s a real good first step.”
So what is a regenerative economy? We hear the terms sustainability, eco-friendly, green, and regenerative thrown around loosely when we describe our efforts to change the world. But what do they really mean? How do we use these principles and implement them into our daily lives and businesses in order to create real change?
According to John Fullerton, Founder and President of Capital Institute, rising inequality, cultural tension fueling radical fundamentalism, and climate change are all symptoms of our flawed economic ideology. In recent years, some of the greatest minds around the world have begun thinking of ways to rethink the current form of capitalism so that it will work for all levels of society and our planet. Fullerton says the common goal is to create a self-organizing, naturally self-maintaining, highly adaptive form of capitalism that produces lasting social and economic vitality for the world’s civilization. This idea of an economy of permanence requires that the economic system’s consumption and waste production doesn’t exceed production and recycling capacity of the planet. Fullerton says that capitalism and neoliberal economics are rooted in a mechanistic worldview, where economies are viewed as completely separate from the environment and biosphere. In order to achieve a regenerative economy, we must shift to a more holistic worldview, realize how our economic system is a part of the biosphere, and stop thinking about prosperity in terms of GDP growth.
A regenerative economy isn’t taking a socialist or capitalist side to economic structure. And according to Fullerton, it transcends the contemporary debate between the neo-liberal and Keynesian (or socialist) economics, and while the debate about State intervention won’t be eliminated, the objective of state intervention will be different from its current goal. Instead of focusing on the value of goods and services, a regenerative economy will see economic health as being inseparable from human, social, and environmental health.
So what does this look like in practice? Ideally, more developed countries will decrease material consumption through smart infrastructure and investment in technology, allowing less developed economies to reach sustainable and equal prosperity. There would also be a global shift away from fossil fuels to 100 percent renewable energy, supported by financial policies that create incentives and investments, agriculture will transition to a sustainable, organic system, regenerative materials will be used at a sustainable rate, and products will be reinvented to be less dependent of finite resources. In a Regenerative Economy, population growth must also be controlled, and education must empower individuals to participate in business and economics at all levels. Decisions would be made at the smallest local levels as possible, focusing on city and regional planning, while national and global agendas would focus on decisions that are too large to be addressed on a local level.
Of course, steps towards a Regenerative Economy must start with a major worldwide societal change and shift in how we view capitalism and ourselves. Once we begin to take this more holistic view that Fullerton describes, policy changes must be adopted to shift business practices. Fullerton says we must remove subsidies to the fossil-fuel industry and to fossil-fuel and chemical-intensive industrial agriculture, and restructure the tax code to help businesses incorporate social and environmental costs and benefits into decision-making.
So, how do we, as business leaders, help transition into this new form of society and economics? On Wednesday, September 27, three leaders from New Resource Bank, Teatulia Organic Teas, and Nutiva, all certified B Corporations, spoke at Impact Hub Boulder about how they apply regenerative principles in their businesses and how they lead their teams.
The panel included Vince Siciliano, President and CEO of New Resource Bank, John Roulac, Founder and CEO of Nutiva, and Dan Wright, Director of Foodservice Sales at Teatulia Organic Teas. They all discussed the struggles they have faced as conscious businesses in a world where other companies and competitors don’t hold their values as close. They all emphasized that conscious business leaders must be transparent about their businesses actions and accountable for their impact. Wright said that as leaders, “we must open ourselves up to outside examination” and also work towards creating more of a community between competitors instead of being adversarial.
Roulac said that being a conscious business in the food industry is challenging, especially with the power that Monsanto has. He said Nutiva has changed the way people eat and is working towards reducing industrial food companies’ market shares in order to influence policy. Like Nutiva, New Resource Bank has had it’s fare share of struggles as a mission oriented company, but even after the Recession, Siciliano said the team stuck to their values through thick or thin and made it clear to shareholders that they are a long term values based organization.
As Hunter Levins pointed out, there is still much to be done before our society can obtain a fully regenerative society, and businesses and their leaders are going to have to be some of the biggest change makers. Certified B Corporations, like Nutiva, New Resource Bank, and Teatulia Organic Teas, are leading the change towards using business as a force of good. B Corps value their responsibility to the community and planet, and must meet standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, legal accountability, and try to use business to solve social and environmental problems.