Defining Regenerative Design

The world is currently on the brink of irreversible damage due to climate change. At the 2019 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it was noted that many vulnerable communities had already started to experience food insecurity and ecosystem crises, with the projected rise in global temperatures set to cause such significant environmental damage that it would displace an estimated 200 million global citizens by 2050. That’s less than thirty years away.

With the clock well and truly ticking, living ‘sustainably’ is no longer enough. Our current environmental situation is so dire, that sustaining ourselves at the current rate of consumption simply cannot reverse the catastrophic effects of climate change. If our actions are to make any kind of impact, we must start to look beyond living sustainably and instead look at how we can reverse the destruction caused by rising temperatures. In the built environment, this will mean surpassing ‘sustainable design’ in favour of ‘regenerative design’ thinking.

The term ‘regenerative design’ is vague - our initial investigations highlighted that it was difficult to find a concrete definition of what regenerative design entails, how it is achieved, and how it might be measured.

We decided to undertake a systematic online database literature review for evidence of peer-reviewed scholarly literature to determine what publications exist that relate to key terms, such as ‘Regenerative Design, Sustainability, Construction, Systematic Review, Living Building Challenge, and Built Environment’. We also conducted a survey, speaking with participants from the built-environment industry to determine their understanding of the term ‘regenerative’, as a way of cross-referencing real-world industry understanding with the scholarly literature. Our findings established that there no ‘one’ accepted definition of regenerative design; that although there is a general ‘sentiment’ about what regenerative design should mean, there are no established benchmarks.

As built environment professionals, we have a moral obligation through principle and practice to act as critical agents of systemic change. Given the construction industry is one of the world’s worst carbon emissions contributors, it is imperative that we play our role in not just reducing but reversing the effects of climate change through regenerative design.

However, in order for us to do this it’s critical that we establish a single definition about what regenerative design entails. In fact, there is a need for a governing body to define it in the same way that sustainability has been defined for over 40 years. Because without an agreed definition, without all of us speaking the same language, it will be impossible to measure how regenerative design is being implemented – or to measure its outcomes – at a practice, national, and international level.

Yaara Plaves, Head of the National Sustainability Forum (NSF)

Yaara Plaves, Head of the National Sustainability Forum (NSF)

Yaara is South Australia’s local leader for all things sustainable—sharing her knowledge and passion with the team, consultants, contractors, clients, and the public alike. Her in-depth understanding of sustainability and regenerative design has seen her involved in several committees and professional organisations within the built environment. She has contributed to leadership in sustainability in education, residential, commercial and government projects on a national level, including Scotch College Wellbeing and Sport Centre, the first LBC project in SA.

Paris Jacobs, Graduate of Architecture

Paris Jacobs, Graduate of Architecture

Paris is a member of the NSF at Hames Sharley and is currently assisting in the development of a sustainable materials database. She has contributed to the design of a diverse range of projects, and currently works across the Health and Retail portfolios out of the Brisbane studio. Paris has a passion for sustainable architecture and materials. Paris was fortunate to visit a remote Aboriginal community, which provided her with an opportunity to learn about Australia’s ancient culture and Cross-Cultural design.

Emil E Jonescu, Principal of Research & Development

Emil E Jonescu, Principal of Research & Development

A registered practicing architect with Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA) and was trained at Curtin University, Perth Western Australia. Working out of the Perth studio, Emil is the Principal of Research & Development at Hames Sharley. His role creates a nexus between academic research, private sector thinking, and Hames Sharley practice—connecting research at both a national and international scale and creating opportunities for practice-led research partnerships that optimises the organisation’s people and processes.


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