3 Frameworks: Regenerative Design in Practice

By Dr Nina Terrey

What is Regenerative Design and Why Is It Important?

Regenerative design is an innovative approach to creating sustainable and eco-friendly environments. It is a holistic approach to public policy design, sector transformation, and an organisation’s business model design, products and services. It goes beyond simply reducing negative impacts on the environment and communities. Regenerative design uses whole systems thinking to create resilient and equitable systems that integrate the needs of society with the integrity of nature. Regenerative design considers the entire lifespan of a policy, an organisation, a brand or a project – making sure that it contributes positively to the environment and communities it affects. It involves careful consideration of all the flows of materials, energy usage, waste disposal, natural conservation / restoration/ regeneration, gender and equity within supply chains, employment, and sustainable consumer behaviour.

But why is it important?

With the devastating impact of climate change becoming more evident every day, it is clear that we need to take bold action to protect our planet. Regenerative design offers a powerful solution, creating spaces that not only do less harm but actively work to heal the environment. By adopting regenerative design frameworks, mindset, skill, and tools we can create a better future for ourselves and for generations to come.

Who needs to know about regenerative design?

Regenerative design is an approach that seeks to restore, renew, and revitalize our natural and human-man ecosystems and communities. Anyone who is concerned about the impact we have on our planet and its resources should know about regenerative design. This approach can be applied to a wide range of projects, from public policy, industry development, building design and construction, agriculture, food systems, production and consumption of consumable goods, waste management, energy and water management – the list goes on. So if you are a policy maker, product designer, marketer, technologist, farmer, entrepreneur, economist, architect, engineer, urban planner, environmentalist, or sustainability officer – you should be well-versed in regenerative design principles. By prioritizing regenerative design, we can create a sustainable future for ourselves and future generations.

What different types of Regenerative Design Frameworks can we use?

The choice of framework is less important than the action of applying frameworks. In the spirit of sharing some frameworks, read these frameworks with the view of understanding the intent, and how this intent may be applied to your context. The application of frameworks will come down to assessing the context of change and the impact the organisation or collection of stakeholders seek to make, and the co-creation of a framework for your context may be the most appropriate. For example, the Innovation Center for US Dairy has been leading the way with its sustainability framework for the dairy sector.


Natural Capital Solutions

The global economy is embedded in the environment. The value of ecosystem services doesn’t appear on the balance sheets of corporations. But that’ staggering omission is gaining significant attention in recent years. Natural capital solutions(NSC) frameworks through a rigorous evaluation process, prioritize the most effective strategies for the conservation of nature and its assets and provide an evidence-based approach to justify investments in conservation initiatives. By recognising and incorporating the value of ecosystem services into decision-making processes, NCS frameworks not only promote sustainable land, sea, air, and water use and greater biodiversity but also enable the creation of long-term economic benefits for communities and businesses alike. Overall, the application of NCS frameworks serves as an essential tool for those seeking to ensure the continued provision of nature’s benefits for generations to come. A groundbreaking text by Lovins, Lovins and Hawken “Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution”, is a powerful thesis on the roadmap we need for natural capitalism. Further coalitions such as, have developed protocols to enable meaningful and powerful applications.


Social Equity Solutions

Social equity refers to the fair and just distribution of resources, opportunities, and benefits in society. In recent years, there has been a growing concern about social equity within sustainability efforts. The need for regenerative systems that promote not only environmental and economic sustainability, but also social well-being, has become increasingly apparent. Most companies play a role in creating and maintaining inequities through their supply chains, hiring strategies, and the customer bases they serve — or don’t serve. Therefore models that draw attention to the social equity injustices that exist are fundamental to regenerative systems. To achieve social equity and regenerate our systems, various solution models can be employed. Corporate Social Justice frameworks are designed to address social and environmental issues that are often ignored by traditional business practices.  Corporate social justice frameworks aim to promote fairness, equity, and justice in every aspect of a company’s operations. They can encompass a wide range of initiatives, including ethical sourcing, diversity and inclusion programs, community outreach, and co-design with under-represented groups to extend produce and service lines. By adopting these frameworks, companies can not only improve their reputation but create new brand value by contributing to the development of a more just and sustainable society. Another model, participatory budgeting can promote social equity and create more regenerative systems. This is well discussed by Bregman, in Humankind: A Hopeful History. Generally promoting the participation of marginalised communities in the decision-making processes of policy development, company business model transformation, and creating socially just supply chains are ways to achieve social equity solutions. Overall, building social equity and regenerating our systems requires a holistic approach that embodies principles of justice and sustainability.


Holistic Solutions

Holistic solutions embody a key aspect of regenerative systems, where the ecosystem is viewed as an interconnected network, and all components contribute to its success. An integrated approach that takes into account the diversity of the system is vital to creating structures that are resilient to change, replete with beneficial loops and limiting feedback. Using a holistic approach, we can promote biodiversity, reduce waste, and manage resources efficiently. Regenerative systems are not only about reducing negative impacts on the environment but also creating positive ones, thereby creating dynamic and self-sustaining communities. A useful framework, the regenerative socio-ecological system (SES), developed by Fath (2019) proposes 4 categories that guide how a system e.g. food system, can assess and intervene to create regenerative systems. The 4 categories are:


  1. All good regenerative systems demonstrate cross-scale circularity in areas such as energy, information, resources and money, demonstrating value creation not extraction. For example, the flow of finances is essential for regenerative projects which do require funds to change existing practices to preferred ones, such as regenerative agriculture.
  2. All good regenerative systems have diverse and interconnected structures: different-sized organisations within systems are necessary to withstand shocks and disruptions.
  3. All good regenerative systems promote mutually beneficial relationships. This enables all various players to align their interests so that investment can flow, projects can be assembled, and challenges can be met together increasing the likelihood of success.
  4. All good regenerative systems learn, adapt and share knowledge. This is fundamental to increasing the whole system’s understanding of what works what does not, and how to change. For example, changing weather patterns mean different times to plant – if this is understood across a food system then the whole system will more likely thrive. The collaborative behaviours to learn are essential in regenerative systems.


Regenerative systems are complex, interconnected networks of diverse players and components. To create a more equitable and sustainable world, we must embrace holistic solutions that embody principles of justice and sustainability. This includes adopting corporate social justice frameworks as well as participatory models to promote social equity in our societies. Additionally, learning from one another through collaboration can help us make better decisions for the future. By taking these steps now, we can ensure a brighter tomorrow with resilient communities capable of thriving in an ever-changing environment.

Bregman, R., (2021) Humankind: A Hopeful History, Bloomsbury Publishing
Lovins, A.B., Lovins, L. H., Hawken, P., (2007) A roadmap for natural capitalism, Harvard Business Review
Fath, B, D, Fiscus, D.A., Goerner. S.J., Berea, A., Ulanowicz, R.E.  (2019) “Measuring regenerative economics: 10 principles and measures undergirding systemic economic health”  Global Transitions
Zheng, Lily “We’re entering the Age of Corporate Social Justice” June 15 2020, Harvard Business Review