Rather than look at a design process and ask ‘is that regenerative’, I find it more insightful to look for where a design process is enabling a living system to thrive and adapt.
The advantage of this approach is that it enables us to find regenerative qualities to the design work that we are already doing. (This is an example of looking for the future in the present, one of the techniques in the Three Horizons approach).
So for instance, we can look at where an abundant local, natural material is being used as a part of a new structure and we can see that it is enabling of many of the qualities of a thriving living system:
- Use of abundant renewable materials
- Feedback – connection between people and the resources they depend upon, building local resilience.
- Self-organisation – design that uses local materials better lends itself to local adaptation.
- Appropriate structure – in this case a smaller scale supply chain that can adapt according to material availability.
Design that enables these qualities of a thriving living system to emerge is regenerative.
But what if those renewable elements are only a decorative feature on the front of a brand new building made of virgin, non-renewable materials, then is that design process regenerative?
Instinctively the regenerative design elements feel massively outweighed by the degenerative design of the superstructure. And there is an emergent risk here that regenerative ‘elements’ will be introduced to a project as a cover up for business-as-norma.
But getting into assessing how regenerative something is feels like an intellectual trap that misses the point.
The goals remain to massively increase the health of the biosphere at the same time as reversing the anthropogenic release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
The point about regenerative design is that it gives us a means to achieve these aims in a holistic way.
The real question is not how regenerative the design process is, but how has the overall process contributed to meeting these global goals.
That isn’t to say we should celebrate regenerative processes where we see them – we can learn a great deal from what people are already doing, and by sharing these stories we can start to build a regenerative culture that enables more regenerative design in the future.