Since the onset of the industrial revolution, humans have been the main contributors to earths environmental crisis. From greenhouse gas emissions, ozone depletion and global warming to deforestation, plastic pollution and illegal animal trade, we have managed to wreak havoc on earth. In the past few decades, we started to comprehend the magnitude of our destruction and have tried to become more sustainable. But at this stage of the game, being sustainable isn’t good enough.
If we had to calculate humanity’s annual demand for earth’s natural resources in 2020 and compare this to the time it takes for earth to replenish those resources, we would have crossed the threshold of consuming more than can be replenished by 22 August. Meaning that everything consumed between 23 August and 31 December 2020, representing 36% of our consumption, was borrowed. And 2020 was an improvement on previous years, with the pandemic causing a temporary pause in human activity and a slowing down of our destructive tendencies. This date is commonly referred to as “Earth Overshoot Day” and is a simple calculation of humanity’s demand for resources in a year less the amount of ecological resources earth is able to generate in a year. For the past 50 years we have been consuming more than earth can replenish. el
Which brings me to the flaws of our sustainability efforts. The core premise behind sustainability is “to maintain at a certain level” or “to avoid depletion of natural resources”. In our case, we have been depleting our natural resources for decades and efforts to reduce our ecological footprint aren’t good enough. “Reduction” simply means “do less” …but less harm is still harm. Don’t get me wrong, it is a very good first step, and thankfully we have been on the sustainability journey we have been on, but it still isn’t good enough. Even if we eventually reach an equilibrium of doing no harm, we will still need to repair five decades of damage.
Which is why we need to evolve our discussion from sustainability to regeneration.
Regeneration refers to the ability to replace, restore and renew. Unlike the intent of sustainability, which is to keep things as they are, the intent of regeneration is to make things better. One of the worlds gurus on regenerative business is Carol Sanford who wrote the book “The Regenerative Business” and she says that she always saw the incompleteness and shortfall of sustainability and felt that a new idea was needed, one that was more than “less bad”. Sanford says that regenerative businesses don’t waste time on trying to solve existing problems because this traps you into trying to improve what is already in the system, and that we have to find revolutionary ways to make things better rather than evolutionary ways to make things less bad.
Sustainability initiatives are rooted in trying to fix an existing problem with the consequence that all initiatives are centred around actively trying to do less harm. But doing less harm is not good enough and we need to find solutions that will make things better. Initiatives that will replace, restore and renew.
That’s why we need to stop talking sustainability and start talking regeneration.