The regenerative business : what is it really about?



Authors: Emmanuelle Aoustin, Roselyne Lécuyer and Florent Duchêne

It is critical to act now for a prosperous humanity and a flourishing planet - we know that for a fact. And companies have all the qualities required to accelerate this transition to a regenerative economy. In this article, we share insights into this new and viral concept of “regenerative business”. Is it yet another model or is it a real paradigm shift? What are we really talking about?

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A classic company - one that results from the industrial, service and digital boom of the last 200 years - is generally a company that... contributes to climate change, to biodiversity loss, and to crossing the 9 planetary boundaries! In other words, unconsciously (or not), it contributes to the alarming situation in which humanity and the planet are today. And the more it grows, the worse the situation. Shocking? Simplified perhaps, but still correct, right?And what’s more, approaches such as “sustainable development” and “green growth” have also contributed to the urgency in which we find ourselves, haven’t they ? Because indeed, scientists keep reminding us that urgency is where we’re at!

A regenerative business is a business that proactively contributes to the solution. It serves the common good, it is re-anchored within the ecosystems upon which it depends and with which it interacts, and it allows for living systems - both human and non-human - to flourish.

It is a real paradigm shift for the economic world: it invites a business to rethink its relationship to the world, guided by essential principles such as:

  • a systemic approach that welcomes complexity
  • the wisdom of the living systems as inspiration (biomimicry, permaculture, etc.)
  • meaning and purpose, and the idea of the common good
  • the quality of relationships, connections to self, to others and to the planet, interdependence and collaboration
  • fair share through the commons, as well as ethics and justice
  • respect for singularities and diversity
  • care - for humans, for the relationships with stakeholders, and for the planet
  • local distributed power, encouraging participation and self-determination
  • sobriety, circularity and the search for efficiency in the use of resources and the production of waste
  • adaptation, regulation, and creativity

So what? Is the regenerative business merely good intentions, or even just the latest buzzword? Absolutely not ! The regenerative economy asks for a complete and very pragmatic transformation of the organization : its business model, the relationship with its stakeholders, its purpose, values, corporate culture, governance, organization, and, of course, its P&L and the place of profit. In short, the entire economic and societal existence of the business needs to be reinvented.

Sure, but concretely, how does that translate?

The models that allow companies to design their redirection have developed actively in recent years, and combine both concepts and some examples. To only cite a few : Regenerative Development and Design by Bill Reed, Regenerative Leadership by Giles Hutchins and Laura Storms, Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth, A Compass for Just and Regenerative Business by Forum for the Future, and many more.

In France, when we supported leaders on their pathway to transform their businesses during the first CEC program (2021-2022), we understood that there are a number of stages, or steps to climb towards 'net positive impact ' organizations. The CEC has enabled 150 businesses to complete all or part of the pathway. For example, moving from a business model based on sales and volume (of beauty products, pallets or construction buildings etc.) to a use-based, modular-based or circular-based business model. The CEC’s final report (in French) shares the ‘2030 trajectories’ of 30 companies that take part in this “great transformation” towards regenerative businesses.

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Source: A great shift towards regenerative businesses, Final report of the first CEC (in French)

Well, the path could almost seem clear and fairly easy to design, right? In fact, it’s quite ambitious and complex, has moving parts, and comes challenging at times. And above all it is deeply human - requiring strong convictions and values, audacity and resilience, foresight, anticipation and agility, the ability to take action and a lot of bravery.

In short, the great shift requires a new form of leadership, a “regenerative leadership” which goes beyond the status quo to accelerate this essential transition, and have a positive impact in the world.

At Seedlings, we are convinced that the regenerative transition of businesses is above all a wonderful and joyful human adventure.

Reconciling what needs to be, initiating deep transitions, supporting the motivations that mobilize, and, most important, providing real spaces for regeneration, within the company and with its stakeholders, which then make it possible to innovate and take action - sounds desirable, doesn't it?