Why ‘Regenerative visions – beyond sustainability’?

by Reeta Hafner, Founders of Tomorrow Project Lead

We live in times where dystopias are many, utopias few and desirable and plausible visions for the future are hard to find. At Founders of Tomorrow, we believe that without visions of alternatives to our current way of living and running our societies, we have a hard time working towards a future that secures a dignified life for current and future generations within planetary boundaries.

This year, we turn to the regenerative movement for inspiration and some answers. In Janine Benyus’s words, “Secrets to a sustainable world are literally all around us”. The diverse groups, movements and thought leaders who work on regeneration combine nature’s patterns and principles with ancient and indigenous wisdom and systems thinking. For them, sustainability and reducing the damage to the environment is not enough – we need to actually give back, reverse the negative effects and create societies that operate in tune with nature. We need to regenerate the earth and in so doing, also ourselves.

Definitions for ‘regenerative’ are many. In biology, regeneration refers to the “process of renewal, restoration, and growth that makes genomes, cells, organisms, and ecosystems resilient to natural fluctuations or events that cause disturbance or damage”. Giles Hutchins and Laura Storm define regenerative to be about “creating the conditions conducive for life to continuously renew itself, to transcend into new forms, and to flourish amid ever-changing life-conditions.”[1]

Where is the tech?

How might a society in tune with nature look like in the 21st century and beyond? Or more specifically, how does science and technology that have enabled the development of modern societies play into these visions? If at all?

In the regenerative movement, we’ve seen a wariness with regards to technology and for a reason: without many of the technologies we have today, we wouldn’t have gotten in this mess in the first place. For some, the red flag is the reductivism embedded in the mindset of “solving complex challenges with simple solutions”. For others, it’s the tunnel vision in which nature’s wisdom is sidelined for a one-size-fits-all technical remedies. And for many, it’s the utopian tech-optimism where tech is the ultimate panacea that will fix our problems sooner or later so there’s no need to change behaviour or systems.

But are we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater? What if exponential technologies were harnessed to realise regenerative visions rather than push us further towards collapse and tech-dystopias? Could technologies be designed and employed in tune with nature – valuing both quality and quantity, operating based on a systems view of life and supporting the transition towards regenerative societies? These questions are at the core of why we have chosen as the theme of Founders of Tomorrow 2021: ‘Regenerative visions – beyond sustainability’.

We see both the plethora of opportunities and ethical concerns that come with the innovations using new computation methods and AI, nanotechnologies and smart materials, 3D printing and even 4D printing (yes, you read correctly!) coupled with an awe to learn from nature. We are excited about the potential of data and tech-enabled ‘radical transparency’ that can make ‘green washing’ a thing of the past and help to realise old ideas of standardised carbon reporting, science-based practices and pricing externalities. We are curious about whether a shift in manufacturing from volume to value – lean, decentralised manufacturing enabled by digital technologies from 3D printing, robotics to AI can be done in tune with local ecosystems. We are enthusiastic about the promise of renewables as an apolitical, distributed and abundant energy source. And we continue to be amazed by the power of digital communication networks that we almost already take for granted but that enable spreading of ideas and learnings and organising in movements around the world. And we are cautiously curious and both awed and concerned of the rapid progress in biotech – in many cases inspired by nature, that can enable the creation of new materials and altering the very basics of life.

And there is business in it too…

And how about the business opportunities or imperatives out there? The tireless pressure from civil society, citizens and the ‘woke’ consumers in our markets has started to take effect and will be reinforced in the future. Did you know that by 2030, the so called “Great Transfer of Wealth” will have left Millennials (born 1980 to 2000) to inherit a disturbing debt in greenhouse gas emission, ecology and natural resources, but also five times the capital that they have access to today – capital with new values and purchasing behaviour? Or that already today, in high income countries, 9 out of 10 millennials would consider taking a pay cut to work at a company whose mission and values align with their own? And in case you don’t comply to environmental standards, you might be sued as more and more citizens and activists are turning to legal means to hold governments and polluters accountable. Although we don’t yet know how this acceleration will take effect globally, we see smart influential organisations preparing for this generational shift in consumer power by changing their products and business models.

As sustainability becomes more mainstream and the need for bolder actions to limit and restore the harm done to the environment becomes evident, businesses will also need to take a stronger stance. The word is still out on how ‘giving back’ and ‘repaying our planet’ might look like and what science sets the benchmark. But visionary businesses are starting to see that leading the way and showing a proactive approach to restoring and regenerating nature and our societies will pay off. In the words of one of the leading thought-leaders in the regenerative space, Daniel Christian Wahl, this shift is about “…how businesses can become active agents of change in the redesign of the human impact on Earth from being exploitative, destructive and degenerative to being restorative, healing and regenerative.”

…and this leads us to Founders of Tomorrow

These are the opportunities we want to support future founders to harness. With care and caution. And with curiosity and drive.

This is why, during the five-day program and together with the 60 bright minds, we will dive deep into the regenerative principles and understanding of nature. We will discover what building life-affirming companies means in practice – looking at it both from inside-out and outside-in. We will learn from biology and ecology, biomimicry, nature’s secrets and ecosystem design thinking to unravel opportunities. We will explore the opportunities and risks of using exponential technologies as a tool in the transformation towards regenerative societies, and together form initial principles for doing so. And we will generate visions for regenerative futures and ideas for solutions that could take us closer to realising them.

We hope you can join us.

About Founders of Tomorrow

Each year, with the support from the Danish Industry Foundation, DareDisrupt organises an immersive and intense learning and innovation program called Founders of Tomorrow. For five days, 60 people from diverse backgrounds of tech, science, business, design and more gather around curiosity towards the future, business and tech combined with a strong call for shaping the future to be more desirable for people and the planet. While learning from each other and leading experts and practitioners in the Nordics, the participants connect, share and create ideas for impact-driven tech-powered solutions with the potential to turn into future-fit businesses.

Applications to Founders of Tomorrow 2021 taking place in Copenhagen between 14-18 June 2021 are open until 30 April. Participation is free-of-charge. You need to be a resident or citizen in Denmark in order to apply.

Find out more and apply at www.foundersoftomorrow.com

[1] Hutchins, Giles & Storm, Laura 2019: ‘Regenerative Leadership: The DNA of life-affirming 21st century organisations’. Wordzworth Publishing.

Share this blog post