What is “Beyond Sustainability?” Maybe it’s dirt.

This post was originally published on the Sprout Lenders site, which has lots more detail on supporting local agriculture in the greater Boston area.


“We learn from our gardens to deal with the most urgent question of our time:  how much is enough?”    – Wendell Berry

I’ve learned a lot from dirt in recent years. As I’ve become a more conscious steward of a small patch of land, I’ve realized that some parts of that land are thriving, and in need of little external care. In these spots, if you put a spade in the ground you lift up dark crumbly soil, teeming with life. Last summer I counted thirteen different wormy creatures in just one small shovelful. But in other parts of the land, things aren’t so healthy: in some spots you can’t even dig, because the soil is so dense and compact. When I do manage to get below the surface, there is no life to be seen. I’ve been gradually nurturing these patches, adding organic matter, testing cover crops that should benefit the soil, and watching. Learning.

Turns out, our broader economy is not so different from dirt. Some patches are thriving, producing great benefit without causing pain elsewhere. These patches are already sustainable, and might not need much urgent tending. But in other patches, we don’t just need sustainable endeavors – we need repair, regeneration. We need something “beyond sustainability”. This is one reason I’ve become involved with Sprout Lenders, a local lending group inspired by Slow Money. By supporting our local food system, Sprout is one part of the bridge that will connect the world as it is to a world that is healthier. Repaired. Thriving.

Momentum has been growing behind the idea of a regenerative economy, with serious and illuminating explorations done by the Capital Institute, amongst others. Recently I attended a gathering hosted by Stuart Williams and Susan Davis called “Beyond Sustainability”, where attendees included leaders from the conservation movement, the business world, governing entities, and the investment realm.

Several important themes emerged from this gathering. One was the combination of hope, inspiration, and action. As Hazel Henderson noted, “breakthroughs are driven by breakdowns”. Co-Founder of the Willow School, Pearl Biedron, showed us what regenerative education looks like (and it is stunning).

Another vital theme was connection, with conservationists Paul Lister, Ghislaine Maxwell and Chris Morgan reminding us how deeply intertwined our lives are with the lives in our forests, oceans, and wild spaces. Lister’s work to re-wild large swaths of land in Scotland and Carpathia dovetails with Morgan’s focus on learning from and about large animals, especially bears; and Maxwell’s TerraMar Project aims to give voice to the seas, which cover over 70% of our planet, yet are almost completely unprotected. Indigenous leaders Neva Morrison and Jyoti extended this theme of connection to include connection through time, space, and place, reminding us that “if we don’t know our land, we have lost ourselves”.

For many people, combining ideas like regeneration and money is counterintuitive, but this gathering provided helpful examples of investors who are doing just that, including Greg Wendt, Robert Foster, Ben Bingham, and Amrita Kumar. Each of these individuals is involved with endeavors that nurture these new seeds of regenerative finance, and when taken together, it is easy to see sprouts that are beginning to emerge, a way of investing that is re-centered in service – service to our communities, and to our planet.

Finally, the gathering highlighted the practice of biomimicry, and its relevance to “beyond sustainability”. Nature already provides us with a blueprint for regenerative, resilient systems, and biomimicry urges us to look to nature as mentor, model, measure, and muse. Asking, “What Would Nature Do?” can be the first step towards decisions and designs that are optimized instead of maximized, generative instead of extractive, mindful instead of mechanical. Building upon the ideas of Janine Benyus and Hazel Henderson, I was honored to participate in a discussion of these ideas along with Jacques Chirazi and Stuart Valentine, and hope that they add structure, substance, and inspiration to our themes of hope, action, and connection.

Here’s to regeneration – worm by worm, seed by seed, step by step.


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