Here are my notes from reading the RESTORE report ‘ (REthinking Sustainability TOwards a Regenerative Economy) Sustainability, Restorative to Regenerative – edited by Martin Brown and Edeltraud Haselsteiner – as my part of my regenerative design research. Thanks Emma Crichton for the link.

On regenerative design

This is probably the most useful part for me.

‘Regenerative design, relates to holistic approaches that support the co-evolution of human and natural systems in a partnered relationship.’

This definition is in line with description of regenerative above as enabling social and ecological systems to maintain a healthy state and to evolve. So regenerative design is a series of approaches that enables this co-evolution.

So when people ask ‘is that regenerative’, by this definition, the measure is, does the approach support co-evolution of human and natural systems in a partnered relationship? To make that answer more helpful, it would be useful to take consideration down to a more granular level. For example, ask first what natural and human systems are involved in the action, and then, does the action support the co-evolution of those systems.

An action might conceivably impact on thousands of systems, so there might be some go-to systems to consider first. E.g. for natural systems think, soil health, water, biodiversity, air quality, carbon. For human systems think health, community, shared knowledge. This is a very crude list!

It goes on: ‘it is not the building that is ‘regenerated’, in the same sense as the self-healing and self-organising attributes of a living system, but by the ways that the act of building can be a catalyst for positive change within the unique ‘place’ in which it is situated.’ I note the emphasis here on the act of building (and later the act of living in it) that is regenerative.

Within regenerative development, built projects, stakeholder processes and inhabitation are collectively focused on enhancing life in all its manifestations – human, other species, ecological systems – through an enduring responsibility of stewardship.’ Key for me here is this idea of responsibility rather than ownership, and that it lasts over a long time.

By engaging all the key stakeholders and processes of the place – humans, earth systems and the consciousness that connects and energises them – the design process builds the capability of the people to engage in continuous and healthy relationship.’

This is powerful. It is saying that regenerative design is a means by which we can actually help communities to engage in a long-term and healthy relationship with each other and our natural systems. It actually builds communities’ capability to do this. There’s lots that spins out for me from this idea.

  • To get this level of participation requires careful facilitation.
  • That facilitation should manifest the values of a regenerative approach.
  • This facilitation isn’t short-term but long-term/on-going.
  • We should expect communities to emerge more capable from each building, each initiative.
  • Core this is also engagement between communities and their earth systems. How to see them, understand them, value them. [Note to self: info panel art]. This may also be a facilitated process.

There is continual feedback so that all aspects of the system are an integral part of the process of life in that place – co-evolution.’ Again, I see lots in this:

  • Design is no-longer something that happens temporarily – hey, let’s get the designers in. Design is embedded in the human-natural system in a continuous way. It is something that is continuously building knowledge and capability within the community.
  • Design is life, as in, it is what we do in our role as stewards of the places that we inhabit.

Sustainable, restorative, regenerative

I note these three definitions for future consideration/use.

  • ‘Sustainable – limiting impact. The balance point where we give back as much as we take
  • Restorative – restoring social and ecological systems to a healthy state
  • Regenerative – enabling social and ecological systems to maintain a healthy state and to evolve.’

Thinking out loud. The key difference between restorative and regenerative is the autonomous, evolutionary part. The case for invoking regenerative actions over restorative is that this how nature has done this stuff for millions of years. Restorative feels easier. We may be able to achieve it on a project-by-project level without needing any system change; without necessarily changing our thinking mindsets. But regenerative requires a new approach to our thinking, our role and how we intervene.

I see our existing ways of thinking and working as a blocker to unlocking regenerative potential that we could all benefit from.

Other topics of interest

I was really struck by the idea of regenerative heritage, as described by the authors below. We often think of design as looking forwards, but recently I have been looking back at the history of Bristol to think about how we can draw upon this knowledge to regenerate our local natural and mineral wealth. So this idea of regenerative heritage really struck a chord.

Regenerative Heritage – Understanding a regenerative sustainable future for our built environment necessitates a deep understanding of our existing heritage as living buildings. Our living heritage buildings are sharing memories of place from the past and providing us with lessons for the future. Preservation, restoration, reconstruction, re-use and re-vitalising… are vital approaches to ensuring our living heritage maintains its cultural richness whilst ensuring an ecologically sound and socially just future”.

Thinking out loud on this theme. Two points.

This quote points to the role of our existing buildings and engineering structures more widely to tell a story of a place. Our modern supply chains mean we have to take little consideration of availability of local materials or skill or the impact of the local climate. I see deep listening and deep looking (a phrase I’ve just coined and need to elaborate on) as part of a practice of rediscovering the opportunities for local thriving in a place. It help us see what is there, and what could be there. The clues are in our buildings, how and why they were built, where they were built.

The second point is the importance of place. (This appears again later in the report). There is a wellbeing factor about feeling part of a place, and that is communicated in part by our built environment. We are already part of a local story. To help to grow that connection we should respect and explore the story so far so that the connection is deepening.

Place – on this term the report draws heavily on the ‘Place Petal’ of the Living Building Challenge. I like the definition of place as ‘the carrier of information from the past and the keeper of memory’. Again it reminds us of the deep rooting and unique characteristics of every community specific to its location. I like this section:

‘It is vital that buildings recognise the place in which it is sited. Regenerative buildings serve as contributors to and enhancers of place, its land, history, culture, stories and resources, no longer simply a consumer of resources.’

This framing puts engineering structures in as part of place, part of an ecosystem, part of a cultural memory.

Aldo Leopold – the paper cites Aldo Leopold several times, which a brief side-reading detour tells me I should come back to. In particular his ‘land ethic’, which ‘changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain citizens and members of it. It implies for [our] fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.

Education – seen in this report as vital in moving from sustainability to regenerative. ‘It requires a participatory approach and a change from top down to bottom up.’

Again, thinking out loud. I already understand a characteristic of a regenerative system is to be self-organising, learning and evolving. So this statement about education fits with that view.


Brown, M., Haselsteiner, E., Apró, D., Kopeva, D., Luca, E., Pulkkinen, K., Vula Rizvanolli, B., (Eds.), (2018). Sustainability, Restorative to Regenerative. COST Action CA16114 RESTORE, Working Group One Report: Restorative Sustainability.