Regenerative Growth 

The term "growth" has become a contentious issue within the sustainability community due to the way it has been used to fuel extraction and reinforce cycles of greed and extreme inequity. For far too long it has been wielded as a panacea to all of our ills. Here at Regenovate we believe what is presented in the current growth narrative is a blunt and self-serving tool where vital questions are avoided or simply not asked; Questions such as, growth of what and for whom? And what is the goal of this growth? At Regenovate we are clear about being growth orientated but with the caveat that these questions need answering.

The Chinese proverb, "If we do not change our direction, we are likely to end up where we are headed," holds valuable truths regarding the trajectory of our choice around growth. The author and activist Katherine Trebeck suggests that it is crucial to not only consider the rate of growth but also the direction and constitution. In other words, to what end does what we are growing serve our individual and collective needs, and how much of it do we need over time? The quantity of growth should only follow consideration of the quality of what is being grown. At Regenovate, we recognise that addressing these kinds of questions may feel like we’re swimming against the current paradigm, but by using a living systems perspective, it offers an opportunity for innovation in the growth of value.

In the living system, we see a vast array of growth – in relationships, restoration, and creation, all at differing rates and all supporting the wider system. This can take the form of seasonal explosions of green shoots and leaves on deciduous trees measured in millions of tons each season to the slow growth of the great redwoods that reach maturity at a majestic 400–500 years. What constitutes the physical growth in the living world is based on a relatively small number of elements that for the most part are arranged in ways that can cycle indefinitely, and all of this is powered by solar energy. These compounds support the growth of regenerative processes from the replacement of cells to the birth of new generations. Without growth the living system would have vanished through stagnation and consequential decline.

The direction of growth in the living system is a dance between forces of survival in one direction and evolutionary forces of environmental fit in the other. The direction is further shaped by the interplay between living beings as they co-evolve in a process which, until disrupted by the human species, strengthened the overall health of the system – this is elegantly encapsulated by the phrase, "life creates conditions conducive to life" by Janine Benyus.

If we want to meet the needs of future generations, we will need to recognise that the emerging regenerative circular economy is just that, an emerging economy, and for it to come into existence, growth will need to occur – growth of knowledge, growth of infrastructure, and growth of new products and services. Just as new saplings spring towards the light after an old tree has fallen in a forest, so the green shoots of this new economy will need to grow to fill the void of the parts of the old system which no longer serve us.

All creation and all innovation is some sort of growth, the important piece is that we need to be able to differentiate between growth that depletes and degenerates and growth that supports the larger regenerative living system. If we choose a direction of growth that has the overall goal of regeneration, then growth has the potential to become a force for good. It is time to take back the word ‘growth’ and reframe it as a powerful enabler of a regenerative future. 

Partner with Regenovate