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Sustainable, Resilient & Regenerative Systems [Design
Posted on April 7, 2015 @ 08:46:00 AM by Paul Meagher

The green movement has been successful in making us aware of the need to live more sustainably. Many large corporations now specifically address issues of sustainability in their accounting systems. Many business thinkers have argued that sustainability is not just nice, but can also create competitive advantages for those businesses. The favorable messaging they can put out is one aspect, but simply reducing and eliminating waste and pollution as part of a corporate mandate can introduce considerable cost savings and lead to more innovation.

We all have a basic sense of what sustainability means - that we don't harvest resources in such a way as to reduce the availability of those resources in the future. A sustainable system can run indefinitely and keep providing for humans and other beings.

Sustainability, however, isn't the only goal of the green movement these days. The concepts of resilience and regeneration are discussed more and more these days as positive attributes that our natural and cultural landscapes might benefit from.

Resilience is a system property that leads to those systems being more stable in the face of changing conditions. So resilience is more important these days as a result of things like climate change, water shortages, and economic recession. The goal of many people in the green movement is to design systems that are more resilient in the face of our modern hazards. This may involve planting a diversity of trees where some are more adapted to warmer/dryer conditions and some might be more adapted to cooler/wetter conditions. Whatever might come in the future you are covering off your bases better. Most corporations today don't specifically address the issue of how they are going to be more resilient but this may be just a matter of time.

The third term that I want to discuss is "regenerative" which is another term that is becoming more common in green movement discussions. Whereas those advocating for sustainable and resilient systems might be happy with maintaining the overall status quo, the objective of regenerative design is to create situations of abundance while also being respectful of the environment. Instead of just talking about conserving soil, a regenerative designer would want to talk about building soil so that you can create conditions of more food abundance. A regenerative designer might not be satisfied with a deal that only offers to maintain employment, they would rather see a deal that creates social structures that lead to greater abundance for the workers and community, where abundance is not just monetary but may include other benefits as well (e.g., social solidarity, better safety nets, better commons management, etc...).

It is useful to be able to distinguish between these three types of system properties (sustainable, resilient, regenerative) because green designs might focus on one more than another, or might focus on a couple or all three. It is also useful because it gives us an enlarged vocabulary for evaluating technologies and proposing new technologies.

The ecotopian ideal of many small farmers is to create farms that are sustainable, resilient, and regenerative at the same time. The same ecotopian ideals are often desired by those living in more urban settings. There is a market for ideas and technologies that can satisfy these three demands. Sustainability is not the only game in town. We also like our systems to be resilient and regenerative as well.

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