top of page

What do we mean by Regeneration?

Re-Alliance seeks to showcase regenerative solutions in the humanitarian and development sectors. But what is regeneration? What does it mean to be regenerative?

One way of visualising regeneration is on a spectrum or continuum, like that shown below (adapted from Bill Reed's 'Shifting from Sustainability to Regeneration', 2007).

Sustainability focusses on minimising damage to the environment and human health, and using resources more efficiently to limit the degradation of earth’s natural systems. Regenerative approaches, however, seek to go beyond simply minimising damage, instead reversing the degradation of the planet's living systems and seeking to restore a healthy relationship between humans and other life. Regenerative development encourages us to design human systems that co-evolve with ecological systems to generate mutual benefits and greater expression of life and resilience.

Re-Alliance - Regenerative Continuum.png

There are many terms that you might have noticed when reading about regenerative movements. Regeneration could be seen as a web of many intersecting movements and knowledge bases, each with their own unique framework for engaging with living systems.

Re-Alliance | Some Regenerative Movements

Image above: just some of the movements and knowledge systems which could be describes as regenerative. Not an exhaustive list.

You may have heard of some of the movements in the image above: Permaculture, Agroecology, Biomimicry and more. Each have their own uniquenesses, teachings, methodologies, and have emerged from different contexts.


While each of these movements are unique, what are some shared understandings amongst all of them? When exploring the intersections of these movements and knowledge systems, we might see that many of them include an ethical framework, a set of nature-inspired principles, and a unique worldview. These filter into the way practitioners interact and participate with the world around them - holistically designing their own solutions. A common aim of regenerative movements could be to increase health of ecological, social and/or economic systems.

Re-Alliance  | Whole-Systems Design

• Ethical Frameworks

Regenerative movements tend to have ethical codes at their core, to help guide practitioners. For example, Permaculture has three core ethics: Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share. Permaculture practitioners must meet these ethics when designing. Some Permaculture practitioners add a fourth ethic: Animal Care.

• Underlying Attitudes and Worldviews

Regeneration can also challenge dominant worldviews, and offer an alternative. For example, many regenerative practitioners might say that the exploitation of ecological systems can be directly linked to a cultural separation from nature's living systems. Regenerative practitioners might aim to shift these attitudes toward one of collaboration, with an understanding that humans are part of living systems, not separate from them.

• Nature-Inspired Principles

Principles help to guide regenerative practitioners' actions, giving them a lens from which to view and interact with the world. For example, there are the Ten Elements of Agroecology, or the Principles of Permaculture.

• Whole-Systems Design

Design could mean the conscious engagement with a system; using a basis of ethics, attitudes and principles to help guide and shape the way we interact. Regenerative practitioners look to create holistic approaches in their interventions.

• A Key Goal: Increasing Health

A core goal of many regenerative practitioners when they design could be described as increasing the health of the systems they interact with: social systems, ecological systems, even economic systems.

A design process

Humans are one of the only species on Earth to have drastically changed the shape of the world that we are part of. We may be the only species who has done so in a way that degrades and destroys, that reduces the capacity to sustain a diversity of life.

However, humans also have the ability to create immense positive benefits in the ecological and social landscape. Framing regeneration as a design process helps us harness this ability and use it to plan ways of creating positive change. Regenerative design empowers the practitioner to observe and then make change for the benefit of all Life.

Design processes also help us acknowledge that it is not always just the outcome of work that is most important. How we do things matters. The way we work and the processes we use can also help us infuse our ethics and values into the work.

Watch Re-Alliance's series about regenerative design processes below, where we interview a number of Re-Alliance members to hear their experiences about following these processes.

Designing Regenerative Change  | Visioning
Designing Regenerative Change | Mapping
Designing Regenerative Change | Design for Action
Designing Regenerative Change | Implementation
Designing Regenerative Change | Reflecting
Designing Regenerative Change | Adapting

A whole-systems, regenerative approach to disaster relief, human settlements and development

How could regeneration apply to humanitarian and development contexts? As with many aspects of the dominant culture, humanitarian and development interventions are often designed in a mechanistic or reductionist manner, removing the affected communities from their wider context and systems. Development measures that are not built to withstand crises are the result of short term thinking, as are relief measures that are not connected to improving and developing areas affected by disaster.

The recent emergence of the term resilience in the humanitarian world has brought a new perspective to an old idea, and opened space for thinking about a more integrated response. Some of the hurdles lie in the siloed nature of international funding organisations and NGOs and the way they are structured, with different departments and agencies providing external assistance in different ways.

Regenerative Continuum layered with SPHERE Standards - Re-Alliance.png

How can we shift humanitarian and development interventions away from degrading mindsets of 'aid' and 'security', toward sovereignty? Of course, vulnerable communities subject to conflict or natural disasters may need external assistance during times of crises. The Sphere Guidelines comprise suggested international standards to be used in humanitarian response. They recommend consultation with communities themselves, and consideration of the contexts in which they are living as well as attention to the longer-term environmental impacts and consultation with host communities. A regenerative approach starts with these guidelines but recommends an integrative approach, taking into account all elements of design, environment, shelter solutions, local markets, and a closed loop of reusing resources. Importantly, regenerative solutions must emerge from, and be tailored to, the unique context and culture of the place.

When assistance is delivered without proper consultation with communities themselves, consideration of the contexts in which they are living, or acknowledgement and action with the sovereignty and agency of those communities, such assistance can serve to create additional issues. Providing assistance to refugee populations without regard for host communities, bringing in food aid without recognition of local markets and suppliers and providing heavily packaged goods can all lead to additional long term problems on the ground. Recovery from disaster takes time, emergency support often saves time, but both need to be seen as part of a longer term approach that minimises damage to infrastructure and livelihoods and leaves communities more resilient to future shocks.

SPHERE GUIDELINES As a minimum, humanitarian response should not contribute to unsustainab

Image above: some nature-inspired principles adapted from multiple regenerative movements. The S