Overcome The Barriers to Regenerative Design

By Dr Nina Terrey

Regenerative systems have the potential to revolutionize our approach to sustainability. The implementation of regenerative design systems is a complex undertaking. One of the biggest challenges preventing their adoption is the lack of understanding and investment from stakeholders. Additionally, the current regulations and policies fail to account for the complexity that we face to transition to regenerative futures, leaving a vacuum in the necessary policies to truly enable and support industries to transition to be regenerative. By identifying and addressing these challenges, we can move towards a more sustainable future for ourselves and for generations to come. The practical aspects of addressing these challenges start with the recognition that we are human systems, which means we need to work together to generate the conditions to address these barriers.

Barrier 1: The cost to shift to regenerative systems.

One of the primary economic challenges faced in the adoption of regenerative design systems is the financial burden it places on businesses, organizations, and governments. These costs can be a deterrent for some individuals or businesses considering a shift from their current practices. However, the costs to shift to such a system are not just monetary. The transition requires a significant investment of time, energy, and resources. Regenerative systems require a shift in mindset away from traditional and extractive models, and towards regenerative cycles that support the natural environment. For example, regenerative agriculture.  From an economic standpoint, farmers who wish to shift to regenerative farming practices may need to invest in new equipment and technologies, as well as workshops and training. Furthermore, regenerative farming requires specialized knowledge and skills, which may take years to acquire and refine. Social costs also come into play, as farmers may have to deal with resistance from their peers or local communities who are comfortable with conventional farming practices. However, the benefits of regenerative agriculture – such as improved soil health, increased biodiversity, and reduced carbon footprint – can have significant long-term gains that surpass the initial costs of the transition.

Barrier 2: Lack of awareness and knowledge of regenerative systems

The lack of awareness and knowledge surrounding regenerative systems is a pressing issue that must be addressed. From agriculture to healthcare, these systems have the potential to revolutionize our industries and improve our quality of life. Unfortunately, a lack of education and understanding hinders progress in this area.  Many individuals and organizations are unaware of the benefits and practical applications of regenerative approaches and may be hesitant to invest in these solutions as a result. We must raise awareness and educate ourselves on the potential of regenerative systems, to combat these challenges and secure a more sustainable and prosperous future for all. The main goal of awareness raising is to the shift mindset of people. The mindset of how we all relate to our socio-ecological context is fundamental to regenerative systems. For example, recent research in regenerative tourism found that one of the most significant barriers to regenerative tourism is the mindset, which requires a “shift in social-ecological consciousness and depends on our capacity to evolve our thinking from “me” to “we” and to develop compassion, empathy, and collaborative action” (Dredge, D., (2022).

Barrier 3: Regulatory hurdles facing regenerative systems.

The role of policy and regulation are of critical importance in shaping the welfare of economies and society. The objective of regulatory policy is to ensure that the regulatory lever works effectively, so that regulations and regulatory frameworks are in the public and environmental interest (OCED, 2010). What many sectors face now is regulatory uncertainty, and uncertainty drives inaction. Policy and regulation will help foster a transition toward a more regenerative, just, and resilient systems, such as the agriculture and food system. The lack of regulations governing regenerative practices means companies and farmers are unsure on what and where to act with assurance. The degree of support that is enabled for organisations to combat climate change and invest in regenerative ecosystems, investing in infrastructure and market development of local and regenerative produced goods will come down to addressing regulatory hurdles. The policy to assist with this transition in terms of agronomic research and support, financing options or crop insurance recognition of the on-farm risks mitigated through regenerative farm practices (see reference 3)

Solutions to overcome barriers: Consider trials to share costs, share lessons and demonstrate value.

The concept of regenerative practices has been gaining traction in recent years, with an increasing number of businesses and organizations exploring ways to incorporate sustainable and restorative practices into their operations. One common approach is to conduct trial projects that demonstrate the potential of regenerative practices. These projects allow companies to test out different strategies and assess their effectiveness in a controlled setting before committing to full-scale implementation. By showcasing the benefits of regenerative practices, trial projects can not only help companies reduce their environmental impact but also improve their brand reputation and attract sustainability-minded customers. Recent example, presented at Sustainability LIVE New York conference, by Lyle and Tate, global supplier of food and beverage ingredients to industrial markets, and their regenerative agriculture programs in their supply chains. These trials centre the farmer, and they work with their willingness and capability to participate. Three main planks to their trial projects include:

  • Education: Show the environmental impacts of their current practices. And show the loss of productivity with their land over time.
  • Knowledge: Everyday practical skills and activities to learn about their regenerative practices, starting with measuring soil health. And progressively engaging them in the analysis, the understanding, and strategies to become more regenerative.
  • Demonstrate value: Show how to reduce input costs such as fertilizer costs. Sharing what works in everyday practices, and thereby creating farmer-to-farmer knowledge.
Solutions to overcome barriers: Co-Design Regulatory Frameworks

Co-designing regulatory frameworks is a critical process that requires collaboration between various stakeholders. It involves the development of frameworks that are adaptable, scalable, and flexible to address the complex challenges facing different industries. Regulators need to do two things: first, they need to gain insight to frame the regenerative regulatory challenge accurately. Secondly, they need to develop the right tools to approach complex regenerative policy issues and develop a sophisticated, proportionate response. To achieve this, regulators must work closely with industry players to identify the most pressing regulatory issues and co-create solutions that promote compliance, efficiency, and innovation. Effective co-designing requires regulators to have a deep understanding of the industry they are regulating, coupled with ample stakeholder engagement. As such, co-designed regulatory frameworks are more likely to be effective, balanced, and responsive to the needs of industry players and regulators. This results in a regulatory environment that encourages growth, innovation, and enhances competitiveness, while also ensuring consumer protection, public health, and welfare.

The barriers to regenerative systems reflect the reality that we are undergoing wide-scale disruptive change. As such, there is a need for education, collaboration, and policy reform to pave the way for the implementation and success of regenerative systems.

Dredge, D (2022) “Regenerative tourism: transforming mindsets, systems and practices” Journal of Tourism Futures, January 2022
OCED Report, “Regulatory Policy and the Road to Sustainable Growth” (2010)
Levine, D. “Public policies supporting regenerative agriculture will be good for business” 5/12/22