To flourish in the future, influential business leaders are opening to a new Regenerative mindset that changes everything from how we re-design and operate our businesses to how we address the climate crisis.
“Being Regenerative” means to reinvent, regrow and bring in new vigorous life and vitality. In leading businesses, it adds value because it works and it is essential to future flourishing.
“Being Regenerative” means recognizing more value comes back to us when we act with the knowledge of living systems in mind. This comes in the form of financial returns, agility and resilience, innovation, morale improvement and enthusiastic engagement. Leaders who make this shift consistently unleash the power of Regeneration to enjoy a new surge of energy in their companies. Through continuous regeneration, they realize higher multiples in valuations and achieve major leaps in business success.
“Being Regenerative” is not an expression widely used today but it’s quickly picking up support and advocacy by significant influencers around the world. The underlying dynamics and powerful messages of Regenerative practices are increasingly espoused by forward thinkers across the world: from Nike to General Mills; from the CEO at Blackrock (biggest investment firm in world), to the CEO of Unilever (global consumer goods leader); and from local biodynamic farmers to local organic stores.
“Being Regenerative” is a major mind shift and a new way of operating that means moving toward being circular instead of linear, actively seeking to revitalize larger living systems, and continually adding transformative new energy back into the company.
- First, it means providing products and services that break out of the “Make-Use-Dispose” linear extractive model of the past and moves to a circular economy model of reuse/no waste that also puts back more than it takes out. It regenerates and revitalizes the living economic, environmental, and social system in which it operates, rather than taking away from the health of the system.
- Second, Being Regenerative means continually reinventing the business model and adding transformative/innovative new energy back into the company. This continuous regenerative flow results in greater value creation and enrichment of life, in other words…flourishing.
Being Regenerative requires a “metanoia”, a mind shift of consciousness, and a commitment to continuously innovate and redesign ways of doing business. It is literally a way of Being in this world which makes the world and the enterprise more viable.
Regenerative Flourishing is a mutually enhancing, dynamic relationship between Outside impact and Inside growth, which is true whether it’s the flourishing of an individual person or a total organization. Have you noticed that all powerful strategies and plans have both an Outside and Inside complementary aspect to them that make the whole system work together to achieve success? This is the fundamental truth behind Regeneration: Every person and organization is a living, whole system and is also part of a wider living whole system. Success is greatest when all levels are flourishing.
As the graphic below shows, the outside (Environment, Economy, Society) impacts us and we impact it; therefore, we must have a Regenerative relationship with the Outside because if the greater outside context is unhealthy, it’s only a matter of time before we become unhealthy. At the same time, we must take a continuous Regenerative approach to the Inside of our organizations and ourselves (Growth, Development, Health…wellbeing / profit). Flourishing depends on our continuous outside and inside renewal and reinvention.
Regenerative Organizations actively “screw up the status quo”, seeking to add substantial positive value back into the greater systems of which they are a part, and in so doing generate more value for themselves as well. The past “business as usual” game has been maximizing growth and profit without regard to the cost to the greater social and environmental systems.
Sustainability goals, while laudable, are usually about trying to stop making things worse, but Regenerative Organizations and Regenerative Leaders look at their organizations as living systems within larger living systems. They recognize they must continually screw up their own status quo, transform and regenerate themselves as they spiral upward to greater value creation and positive impact in the world. This Regenerative mindset will eventually replace the past “business as usual” paradigm. Forward thinking leaders see this inevitability and are working to make the change now.
Moral, Market, and Technology Imperatives
The good news is there is a wind in the sails of Regenerative companies and leaders — pushed by a Moral Imperative, a Market Imperative, and a Technology Imperative. Organizations that use these imperatives to their advantage will flourish in the emerging new era. Those that ignore these imperatives risk the chance to make positive change, miss highly successful market opportunities, and will be out of step with future technologies.
1. Moral imperative — Do the Right Thing
Honor and hold onto the organization’s good parts from the past, but recognize what’s no longer working, and work to transform and regenerate. Create a positive future that is nourishing of the greater social and living system, and do it as part of enabling your business to flourish.
Being Regenerative is a choice — do less harm in your business practices and then go beyond by adding to the positive change in the world. It is our experience that most leaders who truly understand and confront the question of being Regenerative end up working to make transformational choices in this positive direction. Most want to do the right thing, they just need help figuring out how to do it because the larger business environments in which we all operate often do not make it easy.
Systems today are not adequately structured to make it easy for companies to work in a circular and regenerative way. This is more true in the USA than in many parts of Europe where they are already far ahead on creating a circular and regenerative economy. It may not be easy at first but that is what moral choices tend to be — making the right choice even when it is hard.
Of course, there are companies that choose NOT to be sustainable, and NOT to be regenerative, but in a world of increasing transparency that choice eventually will be exposed, their brand reputation will suffer, they will miss seeing the new risks and opportunities in their industries, and they will be pushed to change. Just as being sustainable today has become critically important, in the future being Regenerative will be imperative.
Good News — there is already a tailwind coming from the market place that will help companies that make the Moral choice. Those who choose to ignore the moral imperative to address things like the existential crisis of climate change and disruptive social inequities, do so at the peril of their own future flourishing. More and more the market is demanding organizations address these issues in their strategic plans and actions.
2. Market imperative — It will pay-off!
Embrace the shift — Being Regenerative pays off by attracting customers, engaging employees, and positioning your company for future growth. People today want to do business with companies who care about their impact environmentally and socially, and investors increasingly want to know the most accurate risk assessments for failing to address these issues.
The emerging new era will be driven by Millennial and Gen Z’ers who want to see Regenerative practices because it fits their value system and their beliefs about what it will take for the world to flourish in their future. They want to see business take an active role, not leave it to public sector laws and regulations alone. 75% of millennials say they would take a pay cut to work for a responsible company (vs. 55% U.S. average).
They have all grown up with the specter and reality of the climate crises, having witnessed its destructive storms, fires and floods and having studied the projected consequences to life in the coming decades. These generations also see and are experiencing the social impact of the old extractive, exploitative approach to business and they don’t want to do business with companies who engage in these practices. They are leading a shift in the market and they are increasingly influential consumers, employees, and investors.
Accenture Strategy surveyed 30,000 diverse consumers worldwide in 2018, and found that consumers want action and companies that don’t step up pay the price:
“62% of customers want companies to take a stand on current and broadly relevant issues like sustainability, transparency or fair employment practices.
More than half (53%) of consumers who are disappointed with a brand’s words or actions on a social issue complain about it. That’s not surprising. Customers have always complained. What’s different now is that 47% walk away in frustration, with 17% not coming back. Ever.”
People and companies want solutions to their needs and desires. They don’t want just things, they want whole solutions that make things better for their lives. People want to feel better about their choices. More and more they are looking to companies to provide solutions that improve the greater environmental and social system they live in.
Many of the companies leading toward Being Regenerative are already reaping the benefits. Unilever’s sustainable brands grew almost 50% faster in 2018 than the rest of the business, and delivered 70% of Unilever’s turnover growth. CMO Keith Weed says,
“We now have 18 Sustainable Living brands in the top 40 Unilever brands, including all of our top five brands — so this is not something we are trailing with small, niche brands in a corner of the business, it is important and mainstream.”
Consumers are demanding new regenerative materials, products and services, increased transparency, and attention to a company’s social purpose and impact. Employees want to work for an organization contributing positively to the world, and whose culture supports their own long-term health and wellbeing.
Investors, like Blackrock and many others, are also saying that embracing a social purpose is part of what it takes to be a high-performance company today, and Investors increasingly want to know the ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) risks and benefits of an organization. Being Regenerative also reduces financial risks and possible lawsuits for damage done to the environment, society or by violating the rules of good behavior by the market, and prepares companies to consider new risks to operations such as sea level rise. Re-insurance companies like Credit Suisse and others are looking at the bigger consequences of climate change and are reassessing their willingness to support non-sustainable, non-regenerative companies.
3. Technology imperative — Create whole system advantages
Regenerative thinking is whole systems thinking, requiring whole systems technological innovation. Those who break from the “Whack-a-mole, fix-it with minor product improvements” thinking will open up new opportunities to leverage new technological innovations and solve whole systems issues for their companies, communities, and industries.
When you think of all the technologies impacting us now and, in the future, it is mind-boggling… AI, Biophysics, Crypto/Blockchain, Intelligent Things/IoT, Digital Blending, Cloud/Edge Computing, New Bio-degradable Materials, 3D Printing etc. They are changing how we make decisions, reinvent our business models and remake communications and enrich the customer experience.
It goes without saying that we all have to pay attention to how technological changes are impacting our businesses. We have to keep up or be left behind. That was true in the past but in the Regenerative Era, it is especially imperative to respond to tech changes at a systems level as well as at an individual product/service operating level.
Edison’s great invention wasn’t the light bulb, it was the electrical system that solved massive problems for modern society. Apple’s great innovation of the iPhone wasn’t a better phone, it was a whole system for connecting, creating, communicating and entertaining that changed culture worldwide.
Now, the electrical grid system and the iPhone, along with all other tech innovations, are being challenged to be less harmful and more net positive, more beneficial to the whole system.
For example, electricity sources in the US are shifting from coal and nuclear toward natural gas and renewables. But this change doesn’t just change the source, it changes the system — New technology companies are re-imagining the electrical grid. Instead of simply replacing the source of energy, the future may hold a distributed system of energy creation and a redesigned rate-paying system to manage it. In a system, when you change one part, the opportunities to change the rest of the system open up as well.
Apple in the past was not very eco-conscious, but it now has used some of its tech ingenuity to ensure that all of its facilities run on 100% renewable energy. Apple is also redesigning how it can make products for the circular, regenerative economy. They know the ways materials have been collected and processed in the past can’t continue indefinitely at the same profit level, and they know customers and investors will increasingly demand these kinds of innovations. They want to be on the forefront.
The impact of technology innovations is relevant to all industries, not just those with a technology product. Whether it’s how you use social media, how you conduct your sales and marketing, how you produce a product, or what value you deliver — technology change impacts us all.
A Regenerative Systems level response to technological changes means we…
- Look for the interconnectedness within the whole to understand the dynamic interdependencies
- Move from analysis to synthesis, often innovating through combinatory creativity
- Build collaborative relationships to solve the bigger issues of the system
- Change from mechanical linear processes to more natural circular, regenerative processes
- Create open, platform business models that invite in outside input and co-creation
- Produce solutions that don’t just optimize one thing, but optimize the effectiveness of the whole system and enable it to regenerate and evolve.
Once a company makes the consciousness shift to whole systems, regenerative thinking, it is better able to respond to other whole systems challenges facing our industries and society. When it does this, it not only bests the competition, it “escapes the competition” because whole systems solutions create leaps not easily replicated and exceeded.
What’s the positive payoff to Being Regenerative?
Businesses who are doing this well produce:
- New whole systems innovations
- New lines of business
- Higher multiples
- Improved brands and attraction to those brands
- New market opportunities
- Increased efficiency
- More engaged, creative employees
- Reduced risk
- New enlivening energy
- Total company reinvention and preparation for the future
- The chance to make a positive change to benefit all living systems
Summing it up…
Business today has to recognize it is a living system within a larger living system and it has to operate from whole system, regenerative ways of thinking. The Moral imperative, Market imperative, and Technology imperative are all dynamically interconnected and are driving and facilitating businesses toward Being Regenerative.
As the model below conveys, we have an opportunity to move from Breakdown to Breakthrough in our world when we transform through a Regenerative process of conscious change.
Now is the time for us to choose Being Regenerative and make a better, more Flourishing future for all.
- Cone Communications Millennial Employee Engagement Study, 2016
- From Me to We, the Rise of the Purpose-Led Brand — Accenture Strategy, 2019
- Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan continues to fuel growth — Unilever, 2018
- Empowering Unilever marketers and unstereotyping ads: Keith Weed’s case for Global Marketer of the Year, 2018