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.