Regenesis Group Transforming the way humans inhabit the Earth Fri, 02 Dec 2016 17:36:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Regenerative Development and Design: A Framework for Evolving Sustainability – available now! Wed, 19 Oct 2016 18:37:01 +0000 It is with much excitement that we announce that Regenerative Development and Design: A Framework for Evolving Sustainability by Pamela Mang, Ben Haggard, and Regenesis is available now from Wiley! From the book jacket:

Regenerative Development and Design takes sustainability to the next level, and provides a framework for incorporating regenerative design principles into your current process. The Regenesis Group is a coalition of experienced design, land-use, planning, business, and development professionals who represent the forefront of the movement; in this book, they explain what regenerative development is, how and why it works, and how you can incorporate the fundamental principles into your practice. A clear, focused framework shows you how to merge regenerative concepts with your existing work, backed by numerous examples that guide practical application while illustrating regenerative design and development in action. As the most comprehensive and systemic approach to regenerative development, this book is a must-have resource for architects, planners, and designers seeking the next step in sustainability.

Regenerative design and development positions humans as co-creative and mutually-evolving participants in an ecosystem—not just a built environment. This book describes how to bring that focus to your design from the earliest stages.

  • Understand the fundamentals of regenerative design and development
  • Learn how regenerative development contributes to sustainability
  • Integrate regenerative development concepts into practice
  • Examine sample designs that embody the regenerative concept

To create a design with true sustainability, considerations must extend far beyond siting, materials, and efficiency. Designers must look at the place, it’s inhabitants, and the purpose—the whole living ecosystem—and proceed with their work from that more humbling perspective. The finished product should itself be an ecosystem and sustainable economy, which is the root of the regenerative development approach. Sustainability has evolved, and the designer’s responsibility has increased in kind. Regenerative Development and Design provides an authoritative resource for those ready to take the next step forward.

You can purchase the book on Amazon or, if you are a teacher of higher education, you can  request a review copy from the publisher’s website.

If you’d like to help spread the word about this book, you can download a PDF flier here.



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The invisible hierarchies of the living world Fri, 24 Jul 2015 20:48:53 +0000 When we look back on the early decades of the 21st century, the development of the ecological movement from being a niche concern to a mainstream way of thinking will certainly stand out as being one of humanity’s most significant shifts. Over the last decade an a half, ecological advocacy has moved beyond the altruistic rhetoric of “helping the planet” to demonstrating that the activities of humans are inseparable from and dependent upon healthy ecosystems. The result has been an increasing number of pragmatic victories.

As part of this shift, a core frame of reference that’s become more and more widespread is the understanding that ecological systems are not simply equal to human systems, as the three-legged stool of economy, ecology, and culture would imply. Rather, ecological systems are foundational to human systems. In the grand scheme of life on this planet, economy and culture do not exist without healthy ecological systems. Therefore, ecological systems must be regenerated—and protected—at all costs.

This has become increasingly self-evident to our leaders, activists, and change agents. Ecological systems provide the basic building blocks of human sustenance and the resources for our many economic endeavors as well as mitigate the climatological forces that we are now increasingly being affected by. In communities around the world, “wealthy” neighborhoods are defined by their ecological assets—think riverfront properties, mountain estates, and beach houses—as much as they are by their human-created ones. Similarly, impoverished communities all over the world lack not only financial resources but also greenery, wildlife, and healthy bodies of water.

As this understanding becomes more widespread, humans are able to drum up the will to intervene in processes of ecological degradation at larger and larger scales. For example, in dealing with systemic poverty and natural disaster vulnerability in Haiti, members of the ecological movement have long identified the massive deforestation of 98% of Haiti’s land, which began in the nation’s colonial period, as a key originating factor. Not only is Haiti’s poverty directly linked to this deforestation, which renders many of its citizens unable to participate in even a basic subsistence economy, but the natural disasters that have killed hundreds of thousands of Haitians might have played out very differently if the nation’s once lush, absorbent tropical rainforest were in place to slow storm surges and mitigate flooding.

Recognizing this, numerous small aid organizations have been spearheading efforts to plant trees in Haiti for nearly 30 years—but the impact of these combined efforts has been minimal. But just two years ago the Haitian government came around to the necessity of this approach, committing to plant millions of trees with the goal of increasing the nation’s forest cover to 4.5% by 2016, 8-10% by 2023, and 29% by 2063. The restoration of the ecological systems that would be so foundational to Haiti’s health is no longer an impossible dream, but an unfolding reality.

The shift from seeing ecosystems as being merely useful to humans to seeing them as being foundational is an important one—it’s a shift that myself and my colleagues at Regenesis have been working, along with so many others in the world, to enable. From biomimicry to permaculture, the idea of nature as the master designer, the highest authority, and the ideal source of all inspiration has begun to promulgate. But this mindset implies a sort of hierarchy, in which nature occupies the highest rank, and humanity sits below it. And while the existence of that hierarchy, which is indisputably present and observable in the natural world, is something that inspires wonder and creativity and the will to change things in our places and in the world, the truth is that it’s only half the story.

In order to see the other side of the story, we need to look a little bit closer at how the hierarchy is actually constructed.


When the average person thinks about ecological systems, the first thing that comes to mind is usually a constellation of plants and animals. I think of the piñon, juniper, jackrabbit and coyote of the high-desert Southwest, where I live.

But ecological systems are even more complex than those brilliant communities of plants and animals. The foundational layer of the ecological world is not biology but geology—the billion-year-old land formations that define, at their very bones, the world’s places as we know them. This geology, formed initially by the mammoth processes of volcanic eruption and tectonic upheaval, is actually still being formed today, in ultra-slow motion.

These geologic systems—the world’s mountains and valleys, its plains and deltas—are the underlying framework upon which the second layer of the living world is built: the hydrologic layer. This includes not only the pooling of water into the world’s rivers, streams, oceans and floodplains, but also the climatological portion of the hydrologic cycle—the gathering of moisture into the air and its behavior once it gets there, as it takes its cues from the land masses beneath.

It is onto these two layers–the determiners of landform, elevation, water and climate—that biology organizes itself. The distinct communities of plants and animals that aggregate in a particular place evolve in response to these very real conditions. Within even a single forest, changes in these conditions will invite distinct micro-communities of species to thrive. An observant person on a long hike can experience the transitions between these patchwork systems—this is the experience of cresting a hill to find the slope below to be suddenly littered with wildflowers, of stumbling into a thick patch of wild berries, or of breaking above the Ponderosa line on a mountain.

This is an ecological system—geology, hydrology, and biology. But the layering is not complete. Upon these ecological systems, human cultural systems grow.Living Layers

First, we see the layer of settlement. When humans were nomadic, we functioned like everyone else in the biological layer—but once we began to settle, to build homes, and to plant crops, we created a layer unto itself. Just as hydrology is determined by geology, these settlement patterns are indicated by the ecological system—the availability of fresh water, fertile soil, and good hunting in the earlier days of humanity and of beautiful views and recreation opportunities in the present.

The second layer of human culture, built upon and indicated by all of the layers beneath it, is economy. These villages began to accumulate resources, and sought to trade with other outposts whose own resources were complementary. Our economies are still based on these natural resources and on our ability to set up shop where they are located, even as we’ve massively complexified, and distorted, our connection to and interface with those resources as well as the layers of additional, human-created resources that we now also utilize.

From these economies developed our approaches to education—our intention to hand down some information, some understanding, of how best to earn a livelihood in and do right by a place.


The hierarchy that we are now orienting to as a species—this new, coalescing view of ecology as being superordinate to humanity—is a hierarchy of sourcing. It is about recognizing the true source of our Sourcing Creatinghuman wealth, cultural richness, and spiritual purpose. That source is the natural world, and it always has been. In reclaiming our recognition of this source, we have taken the first step to becoming, once again after many years of having lost our way, indigenous to our places.

But there is a second hierarchy, one that we are largely attempting to disown as it pertains to our role in the natural world. We might call this the hierarchy of creating.

Upon geology, bodies of water are created. Upon wet soil, biological life was created. Upon these ecosystems, human cultures were created. But each layer was not only created, but also creative. Plants and animals interact not only with the water systems that enable their existence but with one another—feeding, pollinating, fertilizing—to create new life and evolve. Human communities and economies are the same.

As you move up the hierarchy of creating, each layer becomes more complex, more abundant, and holds greater potential. A valley filled with rocks and rocks alone may very well be beautiful, but it’s not alive. As the layers of hydrology, biology, and culture form, life takes root and takes off.

It is, at this point of understanding, that our role is called into question. Human creativity is not a new concept, but much of what we’ve been creating and how we’ve been creating it has been damaging our foundation, depleting and degrading and tearing away at the layers that source us. For this reason we hold a lot of cognitive dissonance around that creativity when it comes to how we’ve influenced the planet.

As we collectively form the intention to shift towards a higher and better calling, it is time to ask ourselves—is our highest and best calling merely to preserve the layers below? What is our creative role? What is the role that enables us to not only conserve ecological systems, but to build upon them, creating layers of abundance rather than scarcity, of complexity rather than over-simplification, and of life rather than still-life?

Simply put, this is humanity’s next big shift—the shift to regenerative work. To regenerating not only ecosystems, but also our own creative capacity.



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What’s the difference between regeneration and restoration? Thu, 26 Feb 2015 06:39:18 +0000 It’s a question we get a lot. If the end result of regenerative development is that natural systems have regained their ability to sustain and nourish life on this planet, isn’t that just a fancy name for ecological restoration?

To begin to make this distinction, it’s important to note that the concept of “restoring” an ecosystem is a bit of a misnomer. This is because ecosystems are not static—you can’t return an ecosystem to its original condition like you can with a painting or a vintage radio. An ecosystem, like any living thing, can never stand still and can only be in process—either a process of evolution, or a process of de-evolution.

So when you “restore” an ecosystem back to a particular state, the question is this: Will it continue to evolve from that point forward? Or will it begin to decline again?

The answer to that question has more to do with how human systems work than it does with how ecosystems work. If the place’s human systems have not themselves transformed, then they will likely just repeat the same cycle that caused the ecosystem to require “restoration” in the first place.

Traditional approaches manage this by simply keeping humans as far away from the ecosystem as possible through conservation easements and other instruments for protecting land.

But regenerative development takes a different approach, by asking the question: How can we re-align human activity with the evolution of this ecosystem? How can humans be partners in that evolution?

The answer to that question is different in each unique place. But it’s important to recognize that the question has multiple levels. The first level is a design question—the question of how activities like agriculture, land development, and transportation can be designed to harmonize with and support local natural systems. You might even ask how the activity of restoring the ecosystem itself can be designed so that it can help to transform and build capacity in local people.

But another level, which is critical and all-too-often missing from the conversation, has to do with a community’s narrative about itself. What does this community value about itself? What is it valued for by the larger world? How is that identity connected to the underlying natural systems that made the community what it is? And how can the members of the community be awakened to that connection in a way that unlocks the will to engage, in an organic and sustained way, with the design work that needs to be done at the first level?

It’s when you begin to ask that level of question that you are working on regenerative development.

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Ray Lucchesi in Zygote Quarterly Fri, 15 Aug 2014 23:31:34 +0000 Wanted to pass along this interview with Regenesis principal Ray Lucchesi, out now in the current issue of Zygote Quarterly. In the article, Ray talks about the relationship between biomimicry, biophilia and regenerative development as well as discusses some recent projects.

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The Nature of Positive Wed, 21 May 2014 23:32:21 +0000 I wanted to share the link to “The Nature of Positive,” a new article by Pamela Mang and Bill Reed appearing in Building Research & Information. The article discusses the concept of net positive design through the lens of regenerative development and an ecological worldview: 

“Green building was developed from the sciences of the physical world and a mechanistic worldview. This is the same foundation that most of the thinking and technologies of the building industry rely on. It has produced an industry structure and culture in which the value of a building is still generally defined in terms of human benefit, most often measured in relatively short-term financial returns and human health. From this anthropocentric perspective, ‘ecological systems’ are resources or amenities to be managed and utilized for human purposes, so adding value to an ecological system must perforce mean making it more valuable to sustain human activity. The movement to assign monetary value to ecosystem services, which was stimulated by the desire to prevent further destruction of natural resources, was an effort to broaden this definition. So long as it is rooted in the anthropocentric and building technology-oriented way of thinking, it may simply be seen as an infrastructure-oriented and quantitative accounting exercise. The implicit suggestion is that such anthropocentric and technological perspectives may be abandoned if the numbers do not add up.


In contrast, from an ecological worldview, the almost infinite interrelationships of ‘ecological systems’ are the way living entities, including humans, relate to, interact with and depend upon each other in a particular landscape in order to pursue and sustain healthy lives. Eugene Odum spoke of ecology as the study of living beings in their home (Odum & Barrett, 2004). Many indigenous people refer to the plants, animals, insects and even geological features they live with as relatives. Regenerative Development uses the term ‘partners’ (Reed, 2007) to describe the members of an ecological system in the sense of partners in the business of creating the conditions that support healthy life in the place they co-inhabit. In this biocentric perspective, value is defined in terms of benefits to life. Adding value to an ecological system means increasing its systemic capability to generate, sustain and evolve increasingly higher orders of vitality and viability for the life of a particular place.”
It’s a great read, and the online access is free. Check it out!
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Book(s) Mon, 19 May 2014 23:34:07 +0000 At various times over the last twenty years, we at Regenesis have played with the idea of writing a book. Clearly this is the sort of thing that people can talk about for a long time but never do.

In recent years, as interest in regenerative design and development has become more widespread, the intention has become elevated to running-joke status  (“That goes in the book!”). Then, after launching The Regenerative Practitioner series last year and seeing just how powerful the interest in a regenerative approach truly is, we decided that we couldn’t wait any longer.

We are pleased to announce that we have signed a contract with Wiley to write that book, to be published in 2016. 

Designing for Hope

And, ushering the good news in with even more imminent good news, we are also pleased to announce that Designing for Hope: Regenerative Pathways to Sustainability, by Dr. Dominique Hes, University of Melbourne Architecture School, Australia, and Dr. Chrisna Du Plessis, Department of Construction Economics, University of Pretoria, South Africa will be released in October of this year. We spent a wonderful few days with Dominique and Chrisna in Santa Fe and Boston last year, where they interviewed us extensively for their Chapter 6: Regenerative Design and Development. Writing of Regenesis’ work, they note that “The strength of this methodology lies in the fact that it has been tried, tested and refined through years of practice.”

In the chapter, they sketch out the conceptual underpinnings of a regenerative approach, discuss regeneration as a level of work distinct from sustainability, and lay out in depth the three phases of a regenerative project. There are also a handful of case studies of Regenesis projects.

It’s an exciting read–we’ll let you know when it’s available to purchase!

UPDATE: Designing for Hope is now available to purchase!

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The Doomsday Fantasy Mon, 24 Feb 2014 23:35:07 +0000 When James Lovelock’s remarks hit the news last week, I watched a familiar pattern unfold.

“Enjoy life while you can,” Lovelock told a Guardian reporter, referring to global warming. “Because if you’re lucky it’s going to be 20 years before it hits the fan.”

This sort of potent doomsaying packs up really well into a clickable, shareable headline. I watched the story zip around the world in a day via email lists and Facebook walls, powered not by earnest concern for the state of the world but by something more cynical—that special schadenfreude that we reserve for the human race as a whole. 

Let me digress briefly to say that I have a great and enduring respect for Lovelock’s work. He is not only a thought leader but a transformer of thought—someone who has inarguably helped the world to better see and understand its own reality. I also respect his contention that most of the green-fad lifestyle adjustments such as offsetting one another’s carbon and banning grocery bags are insufficient to get us where we need to go. That’s an important message.

But reading Lovelock’s interview in full, it’s clear that he is not intending to spur anyone to action. The main thrust of his comments is this: that an unavoidable catastrophe awaits us, one that will function as something of a global extinction event, and that in its wake human beings, our population sufficiently curtailed, will have the opportunity to evolve.

These comments play into and reinforce a common thought pattern that actually suppresses progress in terms of the evolution of the human species. The message is this: It’s too late, but that’s okay, because our only chance is to wipe out everything that exists and start from scratch. The human race is fundamentally flawed, but that’s okay, because once catastrophe strikes the most worthy and evolved humans will have a chance to shape the world without having to deal with all the others.

It’s one of the most familiar tropes of the environmental movement—and one of the least helpful. Why?

Because it erodes internal locus of control—reinforcing a belief that you and I have no agency in how the future unfolds.

Because if our only hope is to wait for disaster to strike, then what is the incentive to work towards change now?

And because it relieves us of the responsibility to work to develop our own capability and the capability of other human beings by falsely dividing us into “the enlightened ones” and “the others,” degrading our understanding of people who may be leverage points for change.

This may all sound like empty motivational rhetoric, so let me paint an alternate image. We live in a world where it has been proven, time and time again, that it is possible for even a single person to alter the course of history.  The environmental movement—encompassing not only climate awareness but also sustainable and regenerative land-use and development—has been emerging for some time and is, in fact, growing in sophistication every year. There are hundreds of thousands of individuals in the world today applying dedication and ingenuity to this challenge. How much more effective would they be if we all believed that the crisis was one that humanity actually had some hope of solving?

Lovelock’s twenty-year prediction may very well turn out to be true, but there is an unexamined assumption behind his calculations. The assumption is that he is aware of all possible avenues—not just in terms of the physical science, but also the social, ecological, and economic engines that shape our world—that might lead to widespread change. If the only path is viewed as a consensus of major world governments and/or corporations, then I agree that the picture looks pretty dismal. But I don’t think you can rule out other possiblities for rapid, widespread change–I don’t think we can afford to.

The lesson here is not about carbon emissions or sequestration, but rather about our own minds. This pattern of thought—that nothing can be done, and so it is acceptable to do nothing—can show up anywhere, from projects and change efforts to internal team dynamics to personal and/or family relationships.

What is your personal version of the responsibility-absolving doomsday fantasy? What, in terms of personal agency, does that fantasy suppress in you? What opportunities have you failed to capitalize on because of that suppression? And what are you going to do about it?

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Elizabeth Warren’s USPS Proposal: Stacking functions for community resilience Wed, 05 Feb 2014 23:38:22 +0000 The internet is abuzz with news of a proposal from the US Postal Service’s Inspector General, thrown into the spotlight by Senator Elizabeth Warren. Under the proposal, the USPS would use its extensive infrastructure to provide banking services in towns and neighborhoods that banks don’t bother with.

By providing banking services access to the 68 million Americans who do not have bank accounts, the USPS could in one fell swoop challenge the highly destructive payday loan / check cashing industry, save people a lot of money (Warren states that non-bank-account-holding American households spend an average of $2400 a year, or 10% of their income, on these services alone), and net a badly needed $9 billion / year.

A proposal like this provides a good illustration of an ecological principle well known to practitioners of permaculture and regenerative design. In ecological systems, resilience occurs when each element in the system both performs multiple functions (as a tree might provide habitat, shade, fruit, and erosion control), and has its needs met by multiple sources (as that same tree might be fertilized by the leaf litter and droppings of several different plants and animals). This ensures that if a single thread in the web were to break, the web itself would remain strong.

It is often the case that the sole provider of such banking services as basic as check cashing are untenable members of the community (such as the payday loan providers often described as “predatory” when a better ecological metaphor might be that of a blight). By adopting the proposal for which Warren advocates, the USPS would both increase the number of functions it performs and increase the number of sources people have for banking services. This would not only benefit the Postal Service and individual Americans, but it would also add resilience and dynamic stability to American communities.

Photo by Trint Williams

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