Can our economy be regenerative?

Regenerative economy was focus of bigBANG! 2022

By Robin Minick

With inflation and a potential recession as primary topics, the economy makes news and is an important part of daily discourse in the U.S. But how often do we consider other economic models than our own?

Last fall, Dallas social innovators and philanthropists gathered for bigBANG!, the annual social innovation conference that explores big ideas and even larger consequences. True to form, the theme was a big one — “The Regenerative Economy.” It’s a complex topic that isn’t easily summarized, but in this post we attempt a recap and hope to whet your curiosity to learn more about a fascinating, timely, and important topic.

The regenerative economy is an economic system that seeks to regenerate capital assets, instead of depleting them. The foundation of the system is the recognition of the sun and the earth as the essential capital assets. So as you might surmise, the concept was nurtured in the environmental movement and has become popular in social innovation circles. It’s seen as an alternative to the economic methods that rely on an abundance and extraction of assets, which ultimately leads to overuse.

It is usually modeled as a circular system, in which capital assets are reused or reformed, as opposed to a linear model in which materials are gathered, used to produce products that are consumed, and then discarded, ultimately leading to depletion of the natural materials needed for those assets.

Another premise is that the regenerative economic model benefits everyone within the system, as cooperation, not competition, is prized. It has become a model for economic justice, equity, and inclusion, and strives to focus investment in under-served neighborhoods and communities. It emphasizes reward for the enterprise and all who contribute to it, not only to the first-in investors.

Some say it’s a repudiation of capitalism. While it doesn’t have to be, profit and sober use of natural assets can exist side-by-side. Interestingly, global discussion of circular economic principles has prompted some corporations to move from a “do less harm” stance (e.g. achieving net zero emissions) to a “do more good” viewpoint (putting regenerative methods in place).

For a more complete understanding of a regenerative economy, explore the eight principles at its core:

  1. Seeks balance
  2. In right relationship
  3. Views wealth holistically
  4. Innovative, adaptive, responsive
  5. Empowered participation
  6. Honors place and community
  7. Edge, effect, abundance
  8. Robust circulation

Head here for a complete explanation of each principle.

Much of the bigBANG discussion focused on how regenerative principles can be put to work within our community. While the theory feels esoteric, there is value in looking at the way we consume resources and what we are putting back into our world. Understanding the relationships and consequences of certain actions may create a more balanced approach to what we do. Go through the eight principles above and think about different activities in which you engage. It is an enlightening exercise!