Regenerative medicine, regenerative design, regenerative therapy, regenerative agriculture, and yes, even regenerative business! What do all of these things have in common? They’re bound by the idea that by tuning into the interdependence of systems, we can flourish into a new way of being that’s more resilient and beneficial for everyone.
Carol Sanford is a leader in both regenerative business and, as her latest award-winning book describes, The Regenerative Life. By treating all aspects of a company as a living system with stakeholders, Carol unlocks growth potential and helps create companies that exceed innovation by being so flexible and strong that they’re incapable of being uprooted.
What Is a Regenerative Business?
By definition, regeneration simply means that something is brought into a renewed existence. Carol believes that “regeneration is the means by which enlightened disruptive innovation happens.” Businesses can harness this idea by becoming a living laboratory, an evolution incubator, considerate of and responsive to all the changing parts.
A regenerative business acknowledges its place in the entire system where it operates—its community, its industry, its resources— and uses that knowledge of interdependence in their strategic decision-making. Much like a plant only thrives if its soil provides the necessary nutrients, an employee’s potential and behaviors are best cultivated in a healthy work environment. All parts of the system work in unison to support life and growth. Regenerative businesses actively shift mindsets to become more attuned to the spaces in which they function so that they can cultivate growth in all levels of operation, be it corporate, social, or environmental.
Regenerative Business Principles
A 2015 white paper written by the Capital Institute, an organization that aims to transform the future of the economy and the evolution of capitalism, and where Carol Sanford is an active board member, defined the essential principles of a regenerative economy.
The following eight principles are the guiding methods that businesses can use to consider all stakeholders to achieve extraordinary outcomes, regeneratively.
In Right Relationship
As living beings, humans are all connected in a web of life. No matter where we live, what we do, or where our businesses operate, damage in one part of the web ripples to other parts. For example, if a clothing brand is using a factory overseas with poor working conditions, that damage can affect the quality of the final product and worse, the reputation or long-term stability of the business.
A regenerative business would consider ethical questions during their selection of manufacturers because they realize how working conditions can affect the rest of the supply chain and eventually, consumer trust. They rely on corporate accountability to meet consumer expectations and foster the health of their supply chains.
Views Wealth Holistically
Wealth isn’t just money in the bank or rising stock prices. Instead, other elements of wealth must be integrated to ensure the well-being of a business. For example, social capital is just as important as financial gain, and yet many businesses underappreciate and underutilize the true skill set of their employees. Investing in the well-being of employees will translate to other valuable assets like increased productivity or decreased turnover, for example.
Innovative, Adaptive, Responsive
Adapting to a changing environment is something most businesses think about from time to time, but how ingrained is it in their operational framework? The world is constantly changing and in order to provide valuable solutions, businesses must be adaptable. We’ve seen this through the COVID-19 pandemic as businesses quickly shifted to accommodate the changing needs of their consumers. Businesses must have a diverse portfolio and be able to pivot when necessary.
Regenerative businesses encourage a collective mindset that by contributing to the larger whole, individuals serve the system which invariably affects, in a positive feedback loop, the wellbeing of their own work and role.
Think of the busy bees! Each bee in a hive works to contribute to the greater good, which in turn provides the sustenance and protection of each individual bee.
By nourishing our individual talents to contribute to a meaningful system that we ourselves are a part of, everyone benefits.
Honors Community and Place
Place matters, as do the cultures and traditions that have shaped mankind for millennia. Pretty obvious, right? A regenerative business and a regenerative economy value the inherent nature of these influences because they’ve shaped who we are and how we operate. Community and place must be honored not only within employment practices, but in supply chains and resource management as well. Consider the history of coffee production.
All Arabica coffee plants used to be shade-grown, but in the late 1900s, outside entities like the World Bank showed African and South American farmers how to grow sun coffee in order to increase crop yields. These practices completely depleted the land and forced farming communities, who are reliant on fertile land, to migrate to other areas of the world or to new plots of land to farm, disrupting their traditions, economic security, and ways of life.
The coffee plant was programmed by nature to thrive in a certain environment, but interference for the sake of short-term profit ignored this and disregarded the detrimental impacts that followed the change. In choosing to not honor the community, place, and traditional nature of the plant and its cultivators, the environment and societies producing coffee will never be the same.
Edge Effect Abundance
Imagine where a river meets the ocean. Separately, each ecosystem operates according to their own rulebooks. But when they’re forced together, an interchange of behaviors and individual livelihoods are altered or enhanced.
Estuaries are some of the most biodiverse and fertile places on earth. So naturally, we can imagine how the edge of systems is where heightened innovation can occur. Diversity, inclusion, and flexibility help businesses move beyond the binds of their and society’s constructed narratives so they can thrive in new and unexpected ways.
Robust Circulatory Flow
Without the constant circulation of contributing entities, any system is apt to fail. Likewise, economic health cannot become stagnant, it constantly needs a flow of information, money, goods, and services to function. By finding alternative ways to use and reuse economic information or resources, regenerative businesses can strengthen their business, individuals, and overall financial health.
It is generally accepted that balance is the basis of any healthy system. That’s why most humans seek balance in their lives, whether it’s a balance of spending time with others versus spending time alone or deciding what’s for dinner. Businesses need to strike a balance as well and uniquely define complex ideas like collaboration and competition or efficiency and resilience.
Regenerative Business Practices
In the business world, constant evolution is key. In addition to the principles needed to become a regenerative business and support a regenerative economy, there are a number of practices that can enhance productivity, meaning, and profit.
- They use systemic design to nest within established systems, like how our friends at Badger are creating a net-zero campus and serve as a leader for companies fighting climate change.
- They use available materials, like how A Good Company makes an eco-friendly phone case using excess flax.
- Their business model creates more than just a product, it creates a community and multiple benefits. Shout out to Tablas Creek Vineyard who doesn’t just make wine, but sequesters carbon and promotes animal and human welfare through their regenerative organic farming practices.
Regenerative Business Examples
In Carol’s book, The Regenerative Business, she shares ‘case stories’ or examples of how businesses are using regenerative practices to unlock potential. Here are a few regenerative businesses who are using a regenerative business model to thrive.
Founded by reluctant entrepreneur Caroline Duell, All Good is a company that seeks to do right by people and planet. All Good follows a regenerative business model and is a Certified B Corp. All Good openly practices the principles of a regenerative business, especially the Views Wealth Holistically tenant by making mindful decisions about partners in their supply chains. This company is using business as a means to make positive change in the world, while delivering ethical and affordable beauty products.
One of the most recognizable environmentally friendly companies, Seventh Generation is on a mission to make the world a more sustainable and equitable place for the next seven generations. Not only do they accomplish this through their plant-based products, but their mission is embedded in their company practices. From transparency to advocacy, thoughtful partners in sustainability, and an ever evolving commitment to waste reduction, Seventh Generation is raising the bar for paper, personal care, and cleaning companies everywhere. Carol has worked with Seventh Generation and their founder Jeffrey Hollender to further develop their team and elevate the company’s innovation.
Founded in 1993 by Dean Cycon, this fair trade coffee brand based in Massachusetts was created solely for the purpose of introducing people to good coffee and making real change. Instead of leaving that change in the hands of third-party certifications (many of which the company has anyway), Dean’s has their own People Development Program. Through this program, Dean’s employees travel the globe to set up projects in coffee-growing communities that suit the community’s own needs. In addition to using the Edge Effect principle of a regenerative economy, this coffee globalization models how not one company can change the world, but shows how any industry can do the same thing.
The Carol Sanford Institute: Educating Entrepreneurs on Regenerative Business
Founded in 1977, The Carol Sanford Institute helps business leaders succeed in true innovation, which grows profits, disrupts the industry, disrupts the framework of the company itself, and creates tangible change.
Instead of listing frameworks and step by step guides to success, the work of the Institute aims to show, not tell. By allowing businesses to unlearn and break free from their restrictive paradigms, they’re able to flourish in the most prolific way possible.
The Institute oversees multiple initiatives to educate on the regenerative paradigm and how it can be applied in an array of settings. Through SEED Communities and the Regenerative Business Summit, Carol’s Institute shows an unwavering dedication to sharing tools for a more successful life and business.
Carol Sanford, Visionary & Founder
As a storyteller, thought-leader, author, and producer, Carol Sanford seeks to disrupt old paradigm thinking as a means to accelerate the work of changemaking businesses. Carol has published multiple award-winning books on the regenerative paradigm and frequently shares her ideas on Medium, Linkedin, and through her podcasts.
With more than four decades of experience, Carol is essential to the success of notable companies like Seventh Generation and the Google Food Innovation Lab. As an educator, Carol works with Babson College to redesign how students think about business.
Carol founded the Carol Sanford Institute and the Regenerative Paradigm Institute to further share her wisdom and to connect directly to entrepreneurs seeking the tools to ignite change and become regenerative. She also started the Regenerative Business Development Community to help business owners use regenerative design for responsible growth. With more than 500 members, this extended social impact network meets virtually and for an annual summit to learn how businesses can innovate to become the businesses of the future, today.
“I chose the arena of business not because it is what the regenerative concept is about, it’s about a paradigm. A way of viewing the world and literally shifting. But I’ve seen business as the platform where you can either do the most damage or the most amazing transformation.”
How to Cultivate Human Potential
Whether you’re a business owner or someone interested in digging into entrepreneurship, here are some tips inspired by Carol Sanford to make long lasting change.
- Break Habitual Thinking To Spur Innovation: To get ourselves out of the old paradigms of thinking, we need to be more mindful of our thought patterns and our attachment to those habits. Try practicing meditation and journaling to be more in tune with your body and identify these patterns of thought.
- See Talent Everywhere: If you’re a manager, it’s crucial to grow the talent you see in employees already. Each person has an essence that provides their creativity and passions in life. By harnessing and using this instead of turning back to pools of new applicants, a regenerative business is born.
- Overcome Self-Centeredness: We often see things as they relate to our own existence. Instead, try to focus on the benefit needed from others around us. This will help us to see spaces for innovative thought and move into personal agency.
- Assume Personal Agency: By connecting ourselves to causes that are larger than our own experiences, we can better contribute to the world. “We go beyond self-actualizing to systems actualizing; not just getting the most we can out of life but ensuring others can do that as well.”
Closing: The Responsible Entrepreneur Is Regenerative
A regenerative business extends beyond a socially conscious business or even a mission-driven company to further human development and redesign work. Carol’s work is value-adding for any small business or large corporation who is interested in gaining the necessary tools for enhanced, resilient innovation.
Additional Resources & Links Mentioned from the Episode:
- Carol on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Medium
- The Regenerative Business
- The Regenerative Life
- The Regenerative Business Development Community
- Wholeness and the Implicit Order by David Bohm
Sustainable Workplaces Manager & Writer
Jackie is the Sustainable Workplaces Manager at Urban Green Lab, a sustainability education nonprofit in Nashville, Tennessee. She’s passionate about connecting people with actionable ways to make a positive impact on the environment. She graduated from Dickinson College with a degree in Environmental Studies and a certificate in Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Jackie worked in the nonprofit world in Washington D.C. for Ashoka and the National Building Museum.
Jackie enjoys hiking with her rescue dog, finding craft breweries, and traveling the globe in search of plant-based eats.