As the challenges we face in the world become more complex and systemic than ever before, viewing business as regenerative instead of extractive could be the radical new approach we need.
The globalisation of business has brought many positives, especially where increased trade has helped to bring millions out of poverty. But it has significantly increased negative impact on planetary ecosystems and stability. In developing global business systems, we have lost our sense of connection to the ‘bio-uniqueness of place’. The products we consume may have some sense of origin but their component parts and their production, shipping and distribution triangle is a global one.
Could we expect to see a move towards 'regional production for regional consumption' in the future? Re-regionalisation or localisation of business, social and environmental strategies is currently in early stages. So what are the options? And how could we redesign to refocus on locality? Here are four options:
1. Fully Bioregional ReDesign
An innovative product design and manufacturing experiment by Ecover in Majorca looked at designing cleaning products for the local market - tourism - from local waste streams. The objective for Ecover was to see if it could become an international knowledge holder and work with other organisations in the future to emphasise the power and potential of glocal business and product development. To achieve this, the innovation department attempted to see if it could produce detergents and floor cleaners from material sourced in the local environment in a non-toxic process— such as waste streams like lemon peel - and then sell the end product to local businesses in the 500,000-bed tourist industry. The group worked with the local chemical industry, which had already shown an interest in greener chemistry, to try to create greener products.
One of the key learning outcomes of the experiment was to see that when you try to work with bioregional organic waste streams, the by-products of fossil fuels will also decline in use; the result was shrinking the industrial material cycle of the circular economy diagram in order to help to grow the biocultural resources.
The opportunity of regionalised innovation could help shift to a biomaterials-based circular economy, which could in turn improve the social, economic, environmental health of the region in which the business system is embedded.
2. Local regeneration with global distribution
Founded as early as 1991, ethical brand People Tree focused its organisational design on raising the quality of life and share of voice for smallholders, artisans and craftspeople in developing nations. Founder Safia Minney’s goal was to find a business model that helps create a voice for the people who have the lightest economic footprint in the world and who have no capacity to negotiate a CDM programme to bring them the tiny economic benefit that exporting their goods could do. By putting Fairtrade farmers, artisans, garment workers, producers at the heart of the brand it was able to drive economic and environmental benefit to localities.
In their selection, they ensured there was fair pay for workers, but also integrated the wider community. Designing creches to help women work, making sure workers and families had access to clean water or had bank accounts and also gave literacy training. This was a very early approach to regionalised development by weaving the social, environmental and cultural development of the area into the product story. Of course People Tree still exports product around the world but it is a viable business model in the current economic system.
3. People-Centred Regeneration
A great example of people-focused regional experiment is healthcare startup Wellbeing Teams. Wellbeing Teams in the UK is redesigning social support for people through locally hired teams; these teams work solely on the wellbeing needs of their own locality with a key diversity approach.
Typically in home care, employees would be likely to be older people, often over-50s. Wellbeing Teams intentionally brought in people of all ages and groups, but also made very clear that they should come from the locality they are going to work in, so as to best reflect the values, customs and ethnicity of the area. Helen’s vision is that Wellbeing Teams should offer an opportunity for young people to explore whether or not working in a self-managed business is for them, where the fact that it’s a care business happens to also be part of the equation.
4. Regenerative Innovation
Innovation is rapidly gaining pace in many areas of manufacturing, not least food, land and fashion. Ethical footwear brand PoZu uses fabric made from pineapple leaves to replace animal leather for example. These leaves are an unused by-product of pineapple farming and can be used to manufacture fabric that mimics all the properties of leather, locally to the pineapple fields. It’s possible to produce a leather-like fabric from mushrooms. Currently it’s not possible to both produce materials and have footwear production in one locality at costs which are commercially viable for smaller businesses like PoZu.
ReGen Network is a global community and platform focused on ecological monitoring and regeneration. Using state of the art satellite and on the ground technology to improve understanding of the state of land, oceans and watersheds, ReGen enables farmers and land stewards to accurately measure the improvement of land and soil quality. Using Blockchain, it enables farmers to earn additional financial rewards for verified positive changes, which generates a second income in addition to their crop - an experimental way to catalyse the regeneration of ecosystems worldwide.
Jenny Andersson FRSA curates and hosts global discussions on regenerative strategies and works with business leaders and teams to craft conversations that catalyse innovation inside businesses and organisations.