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Agriculture & Farming, Carbon Farming, Regenerative Supply

By Michael B. Commons, first published at Regeneration International

In my collaboration with Terra Genesis International, I have been given space and support to investigate what we may call “Regenerative Pathways” looking at real life examples of functional farming systems that we can identify as being on the “Regenerative Agriculture Pathway.” While these farms/farming systems might be called “Regenerative Farms,” we see regeneration more as a long term process and continuum that we can evaluate through indicators such as soil health, water retention, biodiversity, community health and more. Of particular interest for us is to look at farms/ systems that are producing “key economic crops” as so much of our land area is now dominated by “economic crops” and these crops’ link to larger trade systems. With such a link there is the possibility to develop collaborative relationships to support regenerative practices and systems between farmers, consumers and intermediaries.

My wife and I, for many years, have been active members of the Thai Wanakaset (Agroforestry and Self-Reliance) network, which has a number of farmer members who live at the edges of natural forest reserves with wild elephant populations. For most Thais in this situation, as well as farmers with whom I have spoken from Sri Lanka and Bhutan, this relationship and interaction is much more confrontational. Generally, forest and wild areas are being reduced and transformed into farming monocultures, while the Thai wild elephant population is actually increasing seven percent a year, according to a recent Thai PBS article. From my own observations living in this area around the Eastern Forest of Thailand, most all of the small marginal wild areas that served many species of wildlife have been removed in the last decade (converted to farmland or other uses). Therefore, the elephants are increasingly going out of the preserves and national parks to farms for food. From what I have learned talking with those who live in and around the elephants, these four-legged beings are incredibly intelligent and adept learners, so they have learned and adapted to eat many new foods, like pineapples, corn and rice. My colleagues have told me that elephants can choose to politely harvest from fields rather than to destroy them. Yet for most Thai farmers, they don’t accept any such sharing of their harvest. Thus, the greater focus has been on converting to crops that elephants don’t like to eat, or using measures to prevent their entry or scare them away.

The Wanakaset members of Pawa subdistrict, Chantaburi, have taken a very different path. They have developed diverse forest garden systems that allow space and place for wild elephants. Their farm environments have many different plants that the elephants can eat without needing to take or destroy the family’s key crops. The stories these farmers tell are also quite amazing and inspiring. It seems that the elephants are completely aware of what the forest gardeners are doing and the lands they manage. They hold this coexistence in regard, coming regularly into these shared spaces and largely respecting the crops the humans ask to be left alone, while they enjoy other crops and places provided for them. In my deeper vision of “Regeneration,” I believe we need to heal the divide between humans and non-humans, and that humans can be stewards of lush gardens that provide valuable yields for humans and food and habitat for other living beings. As elephants are such a key species with great power, including the power to destroy, that we can find examples of a peaceful, balanced co-existence, gives much hope. Thus I decided to embark on a journey to learn more from my farmer colleague, Ms. Kanya Duchita, to understand and share with others.

Kanya Duchita and her parents are students of Pooyai Viboon and practitioners of “Wanakaset,” the philosophy and system of organic agroforestry and self-reliance that he taught. Wanakaset, like permaculture, is a design system that reflects the land, situation, needs, skills and interests of the people involved. The process should arrive at some form of an integrated forest garden system that meets the needs and interests of the farmer/gardeners who live in it and who guide its evolution. The land and climate of Pawa are favorable for wet tropical fruits (durian, mangosteen, langsat, rambutan) and rubber. Kanya’s family land sits very close to Khao Chamao National Park, a healthy forest with a large number of resident wild elephants.

Michael Commons (MC): “Kanya you once told me that you practice Wanakaset because you are a lazy person. Can you really be lazy and practice Wanakaset (forest gardening)?

Kanya Duchita (KD): “The work of Wanakaset is light work all of the time, compared to conventional farmers who need to work very hard in periods, having to rush to complete their work. As forest gardeners we just need to do some light work and observation all of the time.”

“As we work a bit all of the time, you might say we are not lazy, and we can choose to do more management and get better yields and returns, but at the same time our trees take care of themselves. If we just leave them alone they will be fine and we will still be able to harvest from them.”

“We also have many diverse resources in our forest gardens during the whole year. Herbs such as bamboo grass (for heavy metal detoxification), Chamuang leaf (Garcinia cowa for heart disease and weight loss), we can harvest and process any time. That is, if we want to spend the time to harvest and process them. Even with fruits which are seasonal, we can sell fresh, but also process them for more value.”

MC: “As I see most tropical fruit orchards are integrated and have durian, mangosteen, langsat, and rambutan, how does your garden differ?”

KD: “As forest gardens we integrate more, like fiddle head ferns, pak wan pa (Melientha suavis) and different types of gingers and herbs that can live under the shade of these trees. We also plant pepper vines (black and long pepper) to directly climb up our trees. Most farmers would plant these separately, but we just let them grow up our trees and don’t provide any other care. This is methodology derived from laziness.”

“Most fruit gardeners don’t like to have other trees around their durian trees as it can make harvesting (catching) the durian difficult. But we have observed that with this mix the soil quality is better and holds moisture much longer—meaning in dry season we need to water much less than conventional farmers, and when tropical windstorms come through we don’t lose branches from our durian trees.”

“Wild elephants are a big part of the reason we choose to practice forest gardening, if we only grow fruits (that we harvest and sell), then the elephants often come and eat this fruit and damage the trees. But in our very integrated system, we have many other trees with foods that elephants also enjoy to eat at the edges of our land, like bamboo and fishtail palms, which we do not mind at all if they eat. We have learned a lot from experience what is the best way to garden that can work for us and the elephants who are our neighbors and also come into our gardens.”

MC: “You grow rubber as well, which we normally see only as a monoculture, but you have it in a very integrated garden system, does this affect yields?”

KD: “The yield (in rubber) per tree is not really different than in chemical plantations, but very different in terms of costs (much lower). In transitioning (to organic) we used manure for four or five years but since then did not need any fertilizer at all. Many older wild plants and trees came back after we stopped using herbicide. This includes wild vegetables, wild fruits, herbs and hardwoods. These produce valuable yields for us on top of the rubber. Now we are expanding our focus and cultivation of Mapram—a wild forest fruit related to mangosteen—which does very well in the shade of the rubber and is increasingly valued. (probably Garcinia hombroniana)”

“So in some cases we have allowed the forest to come back under our rubber plantations—now rubber forests—but we also have planted rubber along with other species in integration from the start: sator beans (Parkia speciosa), boon nak, jantana (wood used for incense), dipterocarpus and ginger species, in between the rows of rubbers. In this case the rubber production is good for the whole year except for a break in the driest months, and then we have other valuable yields, such as sator-tree beans. My older brother also harvests many seeds for propagation as seedling trees to sell. The rubber yield is as good as others obtain with no use at all of fertilizer (including organic fertilizers beyond the first years). This rubber forest is still organized in rows and easy to enter and harvest.”

MC: “How about native biodiversity and wildlife?”

KD: “All three of our gardens have good edible mushrooms growing with them, mycorrhizal and termite mushrooms. There are many birds everywhere and of many different species. These birds also help us in propagation—they have seeded rattan and pak wan (a delicious edible perennial vegetable) all around and brought some unusual varieties to our garden from afar. We also have many squirrels who do eat and sometimes damage our fruits. While many other gardeners shoot squirrels, we just leave damaged and unattractive fruit for them on the trees.”

MC: “What about snakes as I have heard many rubber growers say that snakes are a threat harvesting in the very early morning?”

KD: “While snakes can be scary, I don’t really feel we have more snakes, and maybe even less problem as it seems they have their own space to live and be apart from humans (in our garden) and don’t bother us.”


With Kanya, we see three gardens types showing three different pathways to integration.1. Fruit forest, with rubber and herbs. This was their existing tropical fruit orchard—still with strong valuable productive fruit trees like durian. In some areas, they then added rubber trees into this mix as well bringing in and allowing many smaller herbs, vines and more to be under, on and around the trees. While there is ample space for access (and even to allow elephants through) the rubber is not at all in rows and the feel is like a mature forest.

2. Rubber forest: Let the rubber plantation evolve into a rubber forest—allow herbs, wild fruits and trees to come back. This seems like the easiest path towards regeneration, allowing Mother Nature and her helpers to take to the task. It is clear from what Kanya explained that there are seed and root reserves under and around always, so just by stopping the use of herbicide and allowing the forest to come back, it will. Birds also clearly play a key role in propagation. Then the gardener just manages to allow and support what comes, and removes what is not convenient or of particular interest or ready to be harvested.

3. Strip intercropping: Plant rubber trees in rows (7-8 meters between rows—according to best practices such a distance is needed for good production in any case—being closer creates too much competition between the rubber trees and less yields) and in between plant a row of different forest and fruit trees that do well in a garden forest environment and provide yields that the farmer/gardener knows how to use. This seems like the best path if starting fresh, however; Kanya and her family have developed a lot of knowledge and experience both in what grows well together, and in the different uses of many different species of trees, fruits and herbs. While the Duchita family shares their knowledge freely and encourages other to practice forest gardening, even someone without such contacts and with little experience can try and plant different trees and herbs that are interesting and may do well, but then observe, learn and evolve (with) his/ her forest garden over time.

From an economic basis, this system wins on many levels: less cost, less work, no less yield in the key economic crops (rubber and tropical fruits), and far greater diversity of total yields. While there are many other indicators, just the peaceful co-existence of the wild elephants in these forest gardens is proof of their ecological success. Most farmers do not appear to be prepared to accept living in and around diverse forest systems with wildlife; adoption is quite low. However, the third method explained above could be easier to accept and adopt for someone who wants an organized and orderly system.

Another Wanakaset farmer who lives not too far away, Ms. Kamolpatara Kasikrom, explained to me more about elephant behavior. She said that resident elephants are territorial and spread out to different areas to feed. For a given territory, about one to three elephants will manage and eat from it. It seems clear that the forest gardens are considered by the elephants to be part of their managed territory, whereas most all farms where humans try to keep elephants out are not part of their territory. The greatest damage from elephants can come when a large herd transmigrates. Resident elephants will protect their territories from such herds and the damage they can bring. No such protection is offered to an unfriendly parcel. While elephants are exceptionally intelligent beings, I believe this may touch to the very core of both our problem and the solution. Here we see that if we consider our land not to be exclusively ours, but also to belong to the many other lifeforms, and we manage it accordingly, these other beings will come to hold the same vision and practice, also working to manage the land for sustainable health and productivity.


About the author:

Michael B. Commons lives with his family in Chachoengsao, Thailand where they practice Wanakaset (forest gardening and self-reliance) and are active in the Wanaksaet Network. For over twelve years he has worked with Earth Net Foundation to support small-scale farmer groups and associated supporting organizations from South and Southeast Asia to develop organic and fair trade supply chains, regenerate ecological and community health, and build their resilience capacity. Two years ago he joined Terra Genesis International to use his skills to help link and assist concerned and innovative companies, their consumer networks and farmers’ groups to collaborate in developing regenerative pathways together.


1. March 13, 2017 “Thai elephant population is rising at 7 percent a year” THAI PBS

2. From a personal interview in 2017 with Somchai Saman who was awarded best farmer of the Central Region and 2nd best of all Thailand. He and his wife manage 100 of acres of rubber in Sanam Chaikhet, Chachoengsao, Thailand

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Agriculture & Farming, Blockchain, Carbon Farming, Regenerative Business, Regenerative Principles, Regenerative Supply

The Emerging Crisis of Trust

Centralized failures of management of resources resulting in cascading ecosystem failures, increases in surveillance of citizens by unaccountable agencies as well as corporate actors, behavior and social manipulationthrough media and social media, and engineered mistrust intersect to form a general crisis of trust. Even trust in neighbors is undermined as polarized views and media is used to divide and conquer. This all forms into the necessity of revisiting trust as a fundamental layer for social interactions and the basis of our social contract. is built to grow the capacity to focus on common interests and empower all stakeholders to hold those resources in trust as stewards of both outcomes and verification of those outcomes, providing a remedy to the generalized malaise of rightful distrust of centralized, opaque and degenerative governmental, economic and social structures.

Machine Learning

The rise of AI, big data and machine learning is already having huge impacts on society. Many of the impacts are visible in the earlier mentioned crisis of trust and incomplete machine learning algorithms are used to manipulate behavior of citizens as consumers. The larger debate about the safety of AI ranges from Elon Musk’s alarmist stance and public statements that AI should be governed and humans augmented, to enthusiasts who are blindly investing billions of dollars and significant human resources to feed the growth of “artificial” intelligence. Whether or not machine intelligence is truly artificial is not the focus on this conversation, however it warrants further discussion. AI is an important emerging disruption to our reality and, as such, warrants significant design consideration in any Information Technology project. aims to grow the capacity of machine learning and attend deeply to the subtle nuances and complexities of ecological dynamics, health and regeneration, and to create a space for a deep human-machine partnership with the biosphere. This dynamic partnership is essential for all three elements of the whole to thrive.

Ecosystem Collapse

The rapid acidification of oceans, increasing rates of soil loss, accelerating loss of biodiversity, warming climate, environmental toxicity, and global scale degeneration of living systems is all emerging faster on a wider scale than humans have had the capacity to deal with. Humans are notoriously bad with exponential foresight and decision making. Apparently calculus is not our strength, and most of us, especially in governance decisions, have very short aims focused into the sharp point of survival instincts gone awry in the form of greed, optimization of financial liquidity at the expense of eco-social health. This collapse is passing our ability to attend to and respond to with centralized and glacial scientific structures. The structure of academic peer review is broken and mostly used to maintain positions of status instead of increase the capacity of the learning community to understand complex systems. The perverse economic and bureaucratic incentives of centralized power must be removed as obstacles and the ability of business, community, and individual initiative must be unleashed to find creative solutions to regenerate ecosystems around the world. will start with terrestrial agriculture and expand to other lands, mariculture and ocean management as quickly as the creative genius of communities around the world can be unleashed to solve for peer-to-peer monitoring and verification and baseline calibration solutions for ecosystems.

Money Eats the World

Whether the destructive power of hyper liquidity in financial markets ripping away the foundation of living capital and turning it into financial instruments, or the massive energy weight of running proof of work consensus to avoid coercive centralized currency issuance, it is plain to see that money is literally eating the world. While we believe that the transparent costs of a proof of work cryptocurrency is far preferable to trust we all have in the continue ability of the US military to control the worlds metro-resources that makes the dollar the global currency, Bitcoin’s designed decentralized inefficiency is still world eating. It is less bad, but not good enough, and needless to say it is certainly not regenerative. The imperative to generate a decentralized currency system based on regenerative utility, that is a real use that increases the health of ecosystem through use is essential to a healthy functioning economy, and the maturity of the cryptocurrency and blockchain community which threatens to teeter into a war between crypto kitties and hyper liquid financialization instead of fulfilling the philosophical promised and potential of what the distributed ledger and decentralized economy can bring.

The Distributed Economy

Distributed ledger technology, sharing economy (both real and pseudo-sharing economy), micro transaction networks, token economics, and the new decentralization and distribution of technology and fungibility of decentralized cryptographic network tokens that represent various forms of assets unlock the potential for a new economy optimized for cooperation, evolution of diversified niche economic roles, and massive participation in a non-coercive mutualistic network economy. This emergence is not a minute too soon. Massive experimentation is now underway and many DApps and platforms are being born. is designed to be a network and platform that serves to accelerate decentralized innovation to reconnect human economy with living systems and the imperatives for biological and ecological health. This is accomplished by providing the framework for the exchange of verified ecological data as the basic currency for a new regenerative, bioregionally-sourced, global decentralized economy.

Regenerative Agriculture

The growing movement to leverage the potential of soil to sequester carbon including governmental and business initiatives globally, also has deep strategic and ethical imperatives. As noted in the previously published Levels of Regenerative Agriculture white paper (Soloviev, Landua 2016), Regenerative Agriculture goes far beyond simply soil carbon sequestration. Soil Carbon Sequestration represents a regenerative outcome, but all levels of the value stream from soil to the human consumer of a product and back to the soil are part of the regenerative imperative that is now growing into a movement. Individuals and businesses are increasingly motivated to explore how to participate in a co-creative and regenerative economy where human needs are met in style while ecosystem health is increased and the capacity of the system itself and all members of the system to evolve more robust vitality and viability is grown.


Agriculture & Farming, Carbon Farming, Regenerative Supply

Greening the way – welcome to the COP22!

[this article was written during the 1st week of the COP22 in Marrakesh in November 2016]

It’s 7pm – closing time at the COP, the hoovers are already whizzing around me, cleaning up the carpet floor inside the tents, as I’m enjoying a glass of Riesling that I gleaned from the stand of the Austrian chamber of commerce and taking some time to reflect on my impressions of this event. TGI has been invited by Regeneration International, a new partner organization, to join a side event of the international climate conference COP22 in Marrakesh, one year after the famous COP21 in Paris. Before I launch into a personal report from this global event: Is everyone clear on what COP stands for? Conference of Parties. Parties to what? To the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). And why 22? Well, it’s the 22nd of their annual meetings. That already sets the scene quite nicely: since 1995, the member states try to agree on concrete measures to reduce or limit climate change. Reversing climate change, which is the ambitious goal of actors involved in global regeneration like TGI, has not been on their agenda until now, but as you will see – there is hope! And to introduce myself quickly: my name is Anselm Ibing, I’m a new consultant working with TGI – so new that the pdf of my business card only came through a day before I left to Marrakesh and I had no time to get them printed properly – well, I guess the TGI website written on neutral old cards of mine will have to do for now! My intentions for this mission to the COP22: explore the state of the international conversation on agriculture and soils with regard to climate change, look out for organisations TGI might want to partner with or join in order to raise the level of this conversation, identify and approach potential clients, and feel my way into how I would like to bring my unique gifts to this global conversation and how TGI could support me doing so.

How to imagine the COP22?

You might have seen some images on the news: rows of huge white tents covering a fallow just outside the old Medina of Marrakesh (surrounded by an even more larger parking lot). This fancy tent town is divided into two: the green and the blue zone. The latter is guarded by the UN blue helmets and is an extra-territorial zone, i.e. once you step in, you’re no longer on Moroccan soil (or dust in this case). This is where the official UNFCCC negotiations are happening, accessible only to delegations of countries and observer organizations. While TGI is not (yet?) a UN observer organization, we have quite a few friends inside, both from Regeneration International (who are part of the IFOAM delegation) and from the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN). The green zone on the other hand, is open to the public and includes a tent with conference rooms, a restaurant tent and three large tents that are basically nothing other than a trade show. The actors presenting themselves in the green zone (both through stands and conferences/panel talks) are companies, trade organizations, geographic regions (e.g. of Morocco) and civil society actors (from the academic, research and NGO sectors mostly). And maybe you can imagine the show… everyone puts on their ‘sustainable dress’ and brings out the green paint. Although I have lost all faith in the word ‘sustainable’ years ago, there are still some wonderful surprises… some of the nuggets (related to agriculture) are posted on our Instagram channel. I imagine that the more interesting stands are in the blue zone tents, but the green zone can certainly keep you entertained for a day.

Insights from the blue zone

Having a good source of free alcohol in a Muslim country is always useful… tonight this helped me to attract one of our elders to come and share a glass of beer with me at the generous Austrian stand (that was before the Riesling, needless to say): Albert Bates, co-founder of GEN and The Farm in Tennessee. He had just spent 3 days in the blue zone this week and took a few minutes to share some of his insights. I was aware that he was part of a team that had been asked to design the Commonwealth countries’ strategy for the COP22 negotiations (read his great article on this epic assignment). During that meeting, the top representatives of the Commonwealth nations agreed that simply reducing emissions wasn’t enough – aiming for a level of CO2 in the atmosphere of way below 350ppm is what is needed! They also admitted that artificial carbon sequestration and storage or clean coal techniques were not working and they understood that the only way to really sequester carbon effectively is good old photosynthesis: trees, soils, compost, biomass, biochar etc. This falls into the mitigation category and Albert was telling me that the fight is on in the blue zone about funding for such endeavors. Apparently the G77 countries (the so-called developing world) presented earlier this week a plan for how to use the Green Climate Fund’s finance: 100% on adaptation, 0% on mitigation, by which they mean, according to Albert, moving cities threatened by rising sea levels and developing biotech “solutions” like drought-resistant corn varieties. The EU jumped in saying ‘wait a minute – last year in Paris we agreed on 50/50 for mitigation and adaptation!’ Negotiations began. The next day the G77 announced: ‘we’re not ready for a compromise – we want 100% funding on adaptation.’ Without having to say it, both Albert and I both thought of the economic interests that might be influencing the developing countries to hold that position… Negotiations are ongoing and we shall see what comes out of this.

Meet the big players

With regards to agriculture, there are two clear tendencies of the stands here in the green zone: very small and very big. Hmmm, does that remind anyone of real life in the agriculture sector? The small stands were mostly local Moroccan initiatives for sustainable rural development, women cooperatives, urban farming or start-up social enterprises etc. The largest two stands in the whole green zone are operated by two actors with nice, simple abbreviations: OCP and AAA. They are two separate stands, but not so separate as I found out. OCP stands for Office Chérifien des Phosphates – it is one of the world’s 10 largest fertilizer companies, and the world’s largest phosphate exporter, owned by… hmm, let’s just say private Moroccan interests. While the OCP has an elaborate and incredibly spacious stand, its name only appears quite small on the outside of the stand. If you miss it and you’re inside, you wonder where you are, who all this is about, because all you see is ‘green’! Sustainably increasing productivity, “climate-intelligent” agriculture, soil fertility, supporting small-holder farmers… you name it. Big screens, fake parquet flooring, funky wall illustrations of African soil data and alarming numbers of world population rise and the pressure to drastically increase food production (“reasonably” fertilized of course) – the old discourse.


Just opposite the OCP is the other mega-stand: AAA – the Initiative for an Adaptation of African Agriculture. I had been recommended to go see this stand by a friend, so I was curious – could this initiative be interested in really improving small-holder farmers’ livelihoods and ecosystem health? And could AAA fund a large-scale implantation of our “village hubs” in Africa? (The “village hub” is a concept developed by a coalition of 24 partners, led by TGI’s Mary Johnson. Read more about it here.) An even bigger and fancier stand than the OCP, the AAA initiative’s stand is divided into four sections:

  1. a lounge area with a reception desk and an information stand,

  2. an auditorium space for conferences,

  3. a zone for private meetings, with comfy couches and a snacks & drinks table – but alas, it’s guarded by a smiley security man who raises a hand and says “yes, can I help you?” if you approach,

  4. lastly, about half of the stand surface is dedicated to a tour through 4 rooms, a bit like in an amusement park.

I look at all that and immediately think: who is behind this? Who paid for all this? And without further ado I march to the reception desk and ask this very question. “Sorry, we are only working here during the COP22, we don’t really know.” Nevermind.I decide to do the “ghost train” tour to find out more. Of the four rooms, the first three have one thing in common: the only source of light comes from large screens and the rest of the room is painted black.

The future room – imagine the year 2040 and listen to all that AAA has achieved in the 20 past years since COP22, through the mouths of hologram characters in the middle of the dark room, surrounded by three man-sized screens allowing panoramic projections of beautiful agriculture landscape


The data room – dozens of screens of varying sizes and backlit panels, displaying photos, infographics and videos, selectable on touch screen tables, giving you the feeling that you’re operating a NASA space mission


The testimony room – again large screen walls, this time with talking heads – statements about the magnificent impact AAA will have on Africa by partners, members and associates of the initiative: ministers of many African countries, AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa), UN groups, IFDC (International Fertilizer Development Centre), Avril Group (French agro-industry giant) and many others.

The fourth room is white-walled, open and vast: the projects room – yet more screens and wall posters, showcasing a few dozen agricultural projects from all across Africa… development of high-yield seeds; making rain by shooting ions into the atmosphere; inoculating compost with micro-organisms “of agricultural interest” (GM biopesticides) etc. Hmm, I wonder: AAA was only created mid-2016. Whose projects are these? And again: who is AAA – who initiated this? I very naively ask a young man in a suit, who looks official. He also only works there for the COP, but he voluntarily shares an interesting piece of information: AAA was initiated by the Moroccan Ministry of Agriculture at the demand of and with support from… guess who? The Office Chérifien des Phosphates – the OCP. This rather crucial information is not visible in any of the printed or online communication of AAA and certainly nowhere on the stand, unless you look out towards the neighboring stand and connect the dots.


For further information the honest young man points me to a lady holding a phone in one hand and a laptop in another – she actually works for AAA. She tells me that AAA is mostly going to be a platform connecting investors from agro-industry and other sectors with project leaders or entrepreneurs. The projects highlighted inside the stand are only examples of what some of the already affiliated future investors (Avril group for example) have recently invested in on the African continent, demonstrating the types of projects AAA imagines promoting. I verify the information about the OCP being the initiator of AAA with her and immediately her eyes light up in alarm: “No no” she said, looking uneasy, “it was started first by Morocco’s Minister of Agriculture, then supported by the OCP.” I thank her for that precision and wish her a good day. As I move on, I see her swiftly walking to the young man I had spoken with before. She does not look amused as she talks to him in a directive manner and just before I turn away, I see her pointing her finger at me. This young man had clearly been too honest and needed to be put in his place. A few random observations at the end:

  1. Because of all the high-level dignitaries present, the Marrakesh police has received massive reinforcements from all over the country – sometimes streets are practically lined with army or police and at least one well-dressed traffic policemen stands at every major junction.

  2. For the same reason it is not uncommon that a big road or a whole street block is closed off temporarily – then you either sit and wait for a quarter of an hour, watching the flagged, black limousines whizz past, or you do massive detours through residential areas or tiny streets of the Medina.

  3. There is a WiFi network in the green zone unabashedly called “FBI Surveillance”

  4. Apart from having received a brand new coat of paint, Marrakesh has also taken some precautions to reduce the culture shock for delegates: some grubby or run-down parts of town (especially between the airport and the COP zone) have simply been boarded off from the street, the boards displaying green dreams.


Agriculture & Farming, Carbon Farming, Design, Regenerative Business, Regenerative Principles, Regenerative Supply

The term “Regenerative Agriculture” has recently experienced a meteoric rise in public interest, through discussion and promotion by both corporate and non-profit entities. This explosion of excitement and engagement has great, positive eco-social potential for individuals, farms and businesses. However, some uses over-simplify, banalize, or fragment Regenerative Agriculture, instead of engaging with it as a whole and viable discipline.

To expand and uplift global conversation and action, Terra Genesis is glad to release our new White Paper, Levels of Regenerative Agriculture. We aim to support practitioners, organizations, decision-makers and investors to radically transform Earth’s agriculture as a step on the path to an ecosystemically vibrant, socially equitable, culturally diverse, and spiritually meaningful global system of regenerative potential. To download the paper, go to our learn page.

Regenerative Agriculture Cover

Questions? Comments? Tell us below!


Regenerative Supply

by Carol Sanford

It is clear to most of the folks I talk with that the primary paradigm, or worldview, that we use to manage businesses (as well as government, education, and families) is causing a major shortfall for humans, economies, societies, and our living Earth. Interestingly, most people can list a few qualities of this paradigm but are unable to speak about a replacement for it, except in platitudes. For example, reductionism is an old-paradigm quality that people often cite immediately. Some folks will mention fragmentation as a second aspect. When I ask how we’re avoiding the old paradigm as we take on new ways of working for better outcomes, many point to their own intention to “do better by doing good.” But doing good is actually a characteristic of the old paradigm, showing up as the ultimately futile drive to slow the entropic forces of climate change or social decay. When they advocate for new ventures, good folks with great intentions often fall into the trap of using ways of thinking based on the old paradigm. They cannot see the conflict. Although they are doing less harm to forests or rivers or making great efforts to reduce their overall impact, they are still working only on fragments, still contributing to the causes of degeneration and devolution. The great need now is not for improvements in parts, but instead for shifts in whole systems. The old way works by cutting parts from wholes and attempting to improve them in isolation. But living systems, the basis of the new paradigm, always work as fully integrated wholes, and those who work with them create cascades of beneficial change through strategic interventions. This is the way businesspeople need to work, by creating enlightened disruption of whole systems for the purpose of regenerating them. This series of blog posts, “What is Regeneration,” lays out a way to very clearly understand and speak about a new paradigm, one that sees change through the lens of living systems. I call this paradigm regeneration and here I discuss nestedness, one of its primary principles. Nestedness shows up especially clearly when compared to the old-world view that some call “flatland.”

One Example

When Seventh Generation was founded, it advertised itself as a the producer of environmentally sound cleaning products. It conceived of itself as a better alternative than Procter & Gamble or Unilever, a source of nontoxic products marketed to people who cared about the environment. The company was at war with the producers and distributors of other cleaning products, and their brand soon began to develop a loyal following. A big shift occurred at Seventh Generation when I started a conversation with them about the ways in which life is nested and how every life form is dependent on all of the others in its ecosystem. For example, I pointed out that each of us is an individual human dependent on a family  and other social units, which in turn depend on a healthy ecosystem. When living systems are undamaged, this interdependence is seamless; there are no absolute distinctions among parts. This was not a concept that most people grasped—at Seventh Generation or anywhere else. At the time, human health and ecosystem health had different advocates, occupying different spheres of influence. Yet even so, Seventh Generation was already talking about how they were nested in an industry and how it would be possible to move purchases faster if they could help other companies develop the same understanding. They saw the potential to move the entire cleaning products industry and all of its distributors toward more regenerative practices. Understanding nestedness and the wholeness of living systems created a strategic shift for them. They started marketing to human health, knowing that when families did what was best for the least viable among them—small children, the chemically sensitive, and pets—they were doing what was best for forests and ecosystems. The Seventh Generation logo became a door into a home that was overlayed on an image of Earth. At the same time, Seventh Generation shifted from competition, another quality of the old paradigm, to collaboration on projects with  distributors who were engaged at the same level of outreach to customers. In this way, the company was able to influence Walmart in the development of a new policy requiring transparent  labeling from their suppliers, even when transparency was not legally required. When we see the world as a two-dimensional plane, we base our relationships with others on competition and convincing. When Seventh Generation began to see themselves and their suppliers nested within an industry that was nested within local ecosystems on a living planet, they were able to shift their entire strategy. On the day of the aha moment, founder and then CEO Jeffrey Hollender commented that because they hadn’t been thinking in terms of interdependence or of anything other than defending Earth, good as that had been, their strategy had been competitive, rather than strategic and nested. In general, average citizens have some intuitive understanding  of the fact that we live in an interdependent world. Most of us can even grasp that some levels of impact are greater than others. Thus we often hear, “If our planet dies, we will have no place to live.” This is usually only a humorous, off-hand remark, but it provides a door to a larger conversation about the way living systems are nested in one another, not just linked with one another on a single plane, and how the magnitude of our effects depend on the level where we position our interventions. This conversation explores how thinking in a living systems way is important to social and planetary health, including the beneficial effectiveness of business outcomes.

Living Systems Theory

Let’s reground ourselves here by returning to what we in business know already about living systems theory.  We have heard that life is self-organizing. This idea is often referenced by teams that set up and carry out their own work. Self-organization is defined on Wikipedia as “. . . a process where some form of overall order or coordination arises out of the local interactions between smaller component parts of an initially disordered system. The process of self-organization can be spontaneous . . .” It is often pointed to when the downside of hierarchical management structure is under examination. Advocates for a new way of managing point out that humans self-organize at home and in their communities and could do the same thing in their teams at work. There are several work models for just that. Another aspect of living systems is what we might call self-ordering. This term describes the way nature works in rings of complexity to guide a whole system. One example is social ordering: humans live in families, which are nested in communities within nations on a continent, which is on the planet. In some important ways, the larger rings of the system determine how the smaller embedded systems are ordered. But it can also work in the other direction. Cities have been known to cause shifts across entire nations, as occurred in the 1960s when riots in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles increased the push for civil rights across the entire United States, and again in 2001, when the events of 9/11 and New Yorkers’ responses to them precipitated changes in the world at large. We don’t tend to notice or take into account the nested nature of different scales and powers of systems. This ignorance explains why individuals are unable to see their personal impact on planetary climate;  we feel small and insignificant, and  Earth seems so large. We don’t seek to understand how personal decisions and patterns of human behavior affect social inequity or how  economic theories and the tax systems based on them actually cause disparities in wealth. Some businesses wake up and become customer- and market- centric when they learn to see that customers are the big Kahuna, the deciders when it comes to purchasing, and that thereby they have a greater impact on a business’s success than its  internal work on efficiency ever can. These businesses understand that, if they ignore their customers in order to focus on improving efficiency, the results will include a downgrade in the qualities of their products that matter most to customers. Understanding the interrelatedness of our effects requires us to think more deeply about the nestedness of systems. Buyers and markets make up a larger whole within which our businesses are nested. And buyers are humans, natural beings. They are strongly affected by their local ecosystems and by Earth as a whole, simply by being nested within them. Our way to cause regenerative changes in nature is through thoughtful attention to the lives of customers and what can most improve them. Far too often, we think instead in terms of power and hierarchies, searching living systems to discover who or what has dominance over other life forms. The organic structure of metabolic functions suggests that hierarchies of order have a very different nature than power relations. The more complexly organized a nested entity is, the larger its pattern-generating role; the larger its role, the more responsible it is for ensuring higher levels of active reciprocity within the system as a whole. This beneficial contribution—far more effectively than competition—helps to ensure the entity’s own ongoing evolution. Thus, beneficial contributions and evolution are the clearest, most effective way to think about nested systems.

A Flatlander’s Guide to Perceiving Nestedness

In 1884, Edwin Abbott—an English clergyman, educator, and Shakespearean scholar, published  Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, a scientific and mathematical fiction that provides an entertaining view of the mind and explores the complexity of nestedness. The story is a metaphor for human perception and intellectual experience. Its protagonist, A. Square, is a mathematician who lives in the two-dimensional world, Flatland. Here women are perceived as one-dimensional straight lines, the lowliest of beings, whereas men, two-dimensional shapes, are ranked higher socially, depending on their number of sides. Square gives an account of the social and cultural conventions within Flatland and narrates his adventures as he explores other worlds. At the turn of the millennium, a person named Sphere visits Flatland to introduce Square to the idea of a third dimension, in the hope of educating the Flatland population. Square cannot comprehend the idea of Sphere’s three-dimensional realm until he sees it for himself, and so he visits Spaceland. Here he meets Cube, and experiences cylinders, cones, and many other inhabitants. He then dreams of a visit to the one-dimensional world, Lineland, where he tries but fails to convince the monarch that a two-dimensional world exists. The monarch cannot see outside his own experience of straight lines. Square also experiences no-dimensional Pointland, where he reflects on his dimensional travels in the abstract. Ultimately Square entertains the thought of visiting a land with four dimensions and the possibility of fifth and sixth dimensions, and tries to convince Sphere of their existence. Sphere is offended by this idea and returns Square to Flatland in disgrace. Once returned, Square finds it difficult to convince anyone of Spaceland’s existence. Each person he speaks with is attached to and limited by the level of complexity from which they view their own world and the possibility of the existence of others—in much the same way that our politics and business practices reflect our own lack of comprehension. Flatland has long been popular among mathematics and physics students, and lately it has also become a wonderful challenge to business’s view of the world. Imagining ourselves in Spaceland with Square can help us develop the will and imagination to look at our work through the living-systems paradigm and understand how our worlds are nested in orders of interdependent, complex wholes. When the moment of change arrived at Seventh Generation, most of the players were  flat—some were only lines, some were more advanced triangles, and some even more advanced squares. When a sphere became apparent, they entered a realm where they co-existed with distributors, suddenly seeing them as something other than evil disrupters. As their living systems thinking developed, they were able to conceive of the changes that later made them leaders in the field of cleaning products and helped Walmart start the transparent labeling revolution. Realizing how Earth’s health was intimately connected with family health was Seventh Generation’s trip to another dimensionality. From it, they developed the insight required for the invention of new product offerings and communication strategies. They learned to tell a different story, just as Square did when he reflected on his adventures in different dimensional realms. As their insight deepened, the company went to work with Whole Foods to open up a new category, advertising with others in the market and supporting the development of other providers, all the while growing their value to investors and building loyalty among customers.

Effects of Flatland Views

When a business thinks from a flatland perspective, they perceive everything as linear, with at most four or five key points to consider, all of them equally important. Business books written by two-dimensional authors point out the four, five, six, or seven strategies necessary for success. Without the shift in paradigm and comprehension of the nested nature of living systems, they are no better off than squares and triangles in a two-dimensional world.  Businesses rarely elevate themselves to realms of more dimensions, from which they can take make regenerative contributions to their customers’ lives and their industries’ successes. We are all mostly unaware of the nests we live in, but developing the capability to perceive is the only truly effective way to influence the unfolding patterns that will create our future. Markets are living systems, characterized by natural ordering and organizing processes. Discovering and understanding these processes enables us to become innovators, but this critical thinking skill isn’t taught in business schools or by other developmental means. Most often, when we begin to perceive them through the fog of our flatland perspective, we are caught by surprise. Nevertheless, the best companies base their work on the ordering and pattern-generating nature of complex living systems nested within larger living systems. Our adoption of this and other aspects of the new paradigm will guide the next wave of effective entrepreneurialism, determine the role we play in mitigating climate, and decide whether or not we create a viable future for ourselves. Ask for an invitation. The Regenerative Business Summit will change how you do business and live in the world. For more on the living systems paradigm, please check out the previous posts in the “What Is Regeneration” series. “If you would like to learn more about the principles of regeneration drawn from living systems science and theory, please join us October 16-18, 2016 at The Regenerative Business Summit. You will find videos and other information about the summit, including how to request an invitation.” You can experience the story of Flatland through a computer animated feature film made in 2007. A trailer, narrated by Martin Sheen, is available online. The wonderful novel is still in print and available in many formats.

Save the Date: First Annual Regenerative Business Summit. Oct. 18- 20, 2016. From Friday Evening on 18th to Noon on 20th. Seattle WA. At The Foundry by Herban Feast. Get Notified:[UNIQID]

Carol Sanford is an Educator & Thinking Partner with Game Changing Fortune 500 executives and Rock Star Entrepreneurs for 40 years. Author multi-award winning books The Responsible Business &The Responsible Entrepreneur: Four Game Changing Archetypes for Founders, Leaders & Impact Investors, Top 100 Global Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior. TEDx X4.

This article was reposted from the Carol Sanford Institute with permission from the author. The original post can be read here.


Education, Regenerative Principles, Regenerative Supply

by Carol Sanford

A current, prevailing worldview is that everything and everyone can be categorized as a particular type. Each of us—plant, animal, or human—can be classified within a system of limited possibilities. Based on this belief, all of us humans are hungry to know who we are and how we fit into our time and place. We so eagerly want to know what types of lovers, wives, parents, or men we are that when magazines promise us quizzes to sort ourselves out they quickly disappear from newsstands. This helps us identify ourselves, and it may seem to help us understand nature and other beings. But despite its allure, by itself it cannot give us real knowledge. On the other hand, we hate it when we are compared to a specific other person or when our situation is described as a generic example of things as they are. We love the idea that no two snowflakes are alike. We know from genetic science that there are no combinations that repeat. Nature does not create exact duplicates. From microbe to baby deer to human brain, every particular example of each life form is unique. To overcome confusion about the degree or quality of likeness and difference among living beings requires discernment developed over time. It is true that based on surface characteristics, a person, a tiger, or a watershed is not unique and can be identified and categorized according to rating scales similar to the ones we enjoy reading about in magazines. Personality characteristics and personal strengths are easily organized into typologies. Nevertheless, at our cores each of us is singular, and every whole, living being has an essence that is permanent, not an accident of birth, and not the result of socialization. This irreducible reality is captured in the root meaning of essence, which is not to become something, but to be something.

Why Does Essence Matter to Business?

In the business world, we have a firm grasp of differentiation, which is often the basis of branding. A truly great business—one with a long and consistently creative life—goes beyond differentiation to essence or singularity. It becomes aware of its unique identity early on and adheres tenaciousrosely to it over the long-term; it hires to preserve it, develops products and services that express it, and makes it the basis for orientation and development. Singularity is the source of disruptive innovation, and a wise business jealously guards it. Yet even so, a great business often does not express equal understanding of singularity with regard to people and natural systems. In a living system the only lasting and precise way to augment health and wellbeing is to work with the essence of a particular whole—the same way we work when we’re raising a child, governing a city, or growing a brand. For example, when we mistakenly set out to make a child more like an idealized someone else, she quickly loses her identity, which is the source of her intelligence and vitality. The best way to set a child on the wrong track is to tell her to be “more like your father” or “more like your sister.” Advocating or advising from ideals of any kind interrupts essence expression. Ideals arise from societal or cultural aggregations of assumed truths. We form them in order to corral people who seem to be wandering beyond the bounds of accepted society. In other words, we use them to standardize norms, to make people all alike so that we can predict and control their behaviors. The imposition of ideals to for the purpose of dominating is not only characteristic of our relationships with children. We extend it to everything alive. John Mohawk, a tribal elder and a professor at New York University, has said that “ideals are how one culture eradicates another, as the Europeans have come close to doing with the Native People’s of North America.” Within the context of standardized identity, people learn to normalize themselves by mimicking others. In the business world, this can show up as the imitation of products or approaches that belong to other companies’ brands, a symptom of the failure to identify and adhere to singularity. And because we have spent so much time collecting and organizing ideals, standards, best practices, competences, and categories, most of us haven’t learned to recognize and value singularity in any aspect of our own businesses.

Developing the Capability to See Essence

In a regenerative process we look for singularity not in existence, but in potential. I love to suggest that the essence of the IRS is not collecting taxes. That is only a surface. At its founding, the IRS was intended to increase the wealth-producing capacity of citizens and fund the agreed-upon costs of existing as a nation. How would our relationship with the IRS change, if we were able to see through to that essence? How would the IRS work with us if they were able to hold in mind their unique identity? Would the nation ever experience a shortage of revenue? I suggest that every one of us living in the United States would be wealthier and probably happier. It isn’t easy to see the essences of people around us because they are often obscured by the challenges of family, school, and work life. When people are persuaded to conform, their essences are overtaken by personality traits, and the characters they play take center stage, nudging out their true selves. In order to develop the capability to recognize and engage with essence—our own and others’—we must hold it in mind and pursue its living expression in all of our efforts. Every watershed, community, and business has an essence. No two businesses are alike, although at a functional or object level (as with personality in humans), they may share many traits. We may classify types of employee, natures of raw material, categories of business plan, but until we take the time to know people, materials, and systems as their singular selves, we are failing to know and nurture them in the same way we fail to know and nurture a child when we exhort her to be like her father. A regenerative view of the world sees phenomena not only as dynamic, but as singular. That is, instead of categorizing, identifying, and grouping according to what things have in common, a regenerative business always seeks to discern the essence that makes each thing distinctly itself. It accepts and welcomes the realization that each expression of being is one of a kind. This ability to appreciate singularity becomes the basis for deep creativity and motivation, a diametric opposite of the deflating belief that everything has already been seen and done by others before us. It requires constant resistance of the tendency to categorize and pigeon hole. Instead it seeks to see each phenomenon, each customer or retail location or product, as unique and new and deserving of our full presence and attention. Looking to existence, writing down our observations or collecting facts, will not reveal singularity. In order to sniff out essence, we must become trackers and look for it in the same way that native peoples follow the traces of animals who have passed by. Essence becomes apparent in the patterns that are specific to a person, those that reveal how they engage with the world, their purpose in life, the unique value they create as the result of their endeavors. The same is true for the essence of any natural system, community, or organization.

Save the Date: First Annual Regenerative Business Summit. Oct. 18- 20, 2016. From Friday Evening on 18th to Noon on 20th. Seattle WA. At The Foundry by Herban Feast. Get Notified:[UNIQID]

Carol Sanford is an Educator & Thinking Partner with Game Changing Fortune 500 executives and Rock Star Entrepreneurs for 40 years. Author multi-award winning books The Responsible Business &The Responsible Entrepreneur: Four Game Changing Archetypes for Founders, Leaders & Impact Investors, Top 100 Global Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior. TEDx X4.

This article was reposted from the Carol Sanford Institute with permission from the author. The original post can be read here.


Regenerative Supply

by Carol Sanford

It’s Not about Better Problem Solving! This is the third post in a series on the seven first principles of regeneration, drawn from living systems sciences. A regenerative business sees the world in terms of potential rather than problems. By focusing on the core of what’s trying to happen instead of what already exists, a company is able to introduce profound and transformative disruptions into an industry. For example, PayPal enables people to engage directly in exchange, bypassing the problems created by banking infrastructure. Instead of trying to improve banking, business PayPal asks what customers are trying to pursue and invents the means to support them. This requires reining in the strong tendency to start with what is already in the system, and instead to focus on the evolutionary impulses behind what people are striving toward but not yet able to accomplish. When you start well-intended efforts by identifying a “problem,” you are trapped into thinking that you have to fix it. This leads you on a search for the causes and results in efforts to try out many solutions. It pulls all of your energy toward an endless effort that is based on the mindset that got people into the rut in the first place. Einstein warned us about that. But how to do we not start with what exists, what we already have? Here’s what to avoid:

  1. Don’t do surveys to find out how people feel or what they want. They are starting with existing conditions and trying to improve on them.

  2. Do not do an environmental scan or try to build a database of existing skills or resources and figure out how to make better use of what you already have and are currently doing.

  3. Don’t ask customers what they want. They start with what they have and how it doesn’t work or isn’t sufficient. Plus, they’ve already told your competitors what they want and sent them on a wild goose chase.

  4. Don’t pay consultants to collect data for you. That’s a waste of money. It can never lead you to innovation or better competitive positioning, much less disruption. And, according to the Harvard Market Research Center, most customers won’t respond well to what you come up with based on data.

Maybe it’s not a surprise that no matter how well intended the effort, focusing on problems doesn’t eliminate them, only makes room for them to become chronic. Getting people to behave less badly is counterintuitive to the human brain. We are asking people to punish themselves and every bit of research in the world of motivation says this does not work. Okay! Okay! So what do we starfishdo? As crazy as it sounds, we skip over what exists. We act as though the problem doesn’t matter. This sounds harsh, even cruel, but consider: within regenerative processes, problems are not useful information.

Nature doesn’t care that rat populations are exploding in the suburban countryside. Regeneration in this instance occurs when this niche within the ecosystem is filled by returning populations of foxes and owls. Circumventing problems is how much real change comes about and particularly the kinds of change that disrupt markets—and also history, for that matter. Instead of lamenting a problem, ask, “What are customers (or the planet or social groups) seeking to achieve and why?” This is the route to the creation of something that doesn’t yet exist. Don’t look at why current methods aren’t working. Keep your eye squarely on the your buyer’s intention, on the intentions of living systems and social groups. How can you make their lives, as a whole, more workable. To be clear, I am talking about the highest intentions of people as communities, not selfish individual ideas. What is possible in order to make our lives and the living Earth around us what they are intended to be?

Thinking along this line is how Elon Musk got to Tesla. He calls it starting with first principles. He saw that people want to get from one place to another, to go places that enhance living. That was it. So he didn’t improve current automobiles; he bypassed the current concepts and started with the core intention. This is also how Larry Page and Sergey Brin got to the driverless car. They didn’t try to solve a problem in the existing system, foundering on what is currently being explored.

They asked what are the core processes involved in moving from place to place, under all conditions. We can see this at work in the physics of energy. Kinetic energy is already released and has exhausted its potential. The only place where the potential for qualitative change exists is “before”—before energy is manifested and spent, before problems are created. Regenerative thinking dwells in this before, with the potential for what can come into existence. Seeing true potential requires us to go back to the DNA of our intentions, conscious and unconscious, back to first base, where the uniqueness of the opportunity exists. What is screaming to be directly realized directly? This is the question that PayPal answered when they noticed that customers were encumbered by the current banking system and could be released by a method to make direct payments. The same is true for engaging with people. For example, when we pay attention, we see loads of potential in the children around us.

We see their shortfalls as well; there is no end of shortfalls to fix. But if you start with who a child really is, deep inside, what makes them unique, and you help them realize more and more of that, to become closer and closer to their own singularity, then they thrive. Who wants to make a child “less bad”? Don’t we instead want to support them in their quest to realize their unique potential? And don’t we feel the same about each new business and each watershed? No two living systems are the same; each is pursuing a unique potential. Find that and you become a great business leader or a great biologist.

Going back to the DNA of an intention is graspable by looking at how a starfish regrows a broken limb, which I mentioned in my last blog. A starfish or a salamander is capable of regenerating a limb lost as the result of injury, disease, or aging.Some of their cells are able to reform and resume their stem cell nature. They use the DNA of that specific animal, in that ecosystem, and then regenerate a new set of cells. Regeneration is always about going back to base material and regenerating from what is at the core. The regeneration process bypasses the existing problem, a missing limb. It doesn’t try to sew it back on or build an artificial replacement, or teach the animal to adapt to its loss. It generates the limb anew, from the same base that created the original one. As it does so, it takes account of changes over time, the evolutionary capacity of natural systems, and adapts the new limb to the starfish or salamander’s current age and habitat. That is the way a regenerative thinking process works for economies, agriculture, investing, or any other arena. Find the core of the intention. At The Regenerative Business Summit, we are creating a way for people to explore the ideas and principles of regeneration for themselves. “How can we increasing work regeneratively?” The summit will include no outside experts, panels, or business promotion, but will work entirely attendees who have been testing their own ideas about regeneration and who want to work together in a field of inquiry to explore and apply new ones. They will engage in business assessment processes to decide where they are on a path and where they want to go with regard to regeneration. Attendance at the summit is by invitation only and we are filling up fast. Please check our website,, and let us know if you would like an invitation. Also read about our opening night festivities, which will include the awarding of The Regenerative Business Prize. You might like to nominate your own or another regenerative company. Please also talk to us about joining the movement to create more and faster change through Enlightened Disruption.

Save the Date: First Annual Regenerative Business Summit.  Oct. 18- 20, 2016. From Friday Evening on 18th to Noon on 20th.  Seattle WA. At The Foundry by Herban Feast. Get Notified:[UNIQID]

Carol Sanford is an Educator & Thinking Partner with Game Changing Fortune 500 executives and Rock Star Entrepreneurs for 40 years. Author multi-award winning books The Responsible Business &The Responsible Entrepreneur: Four Game Changing Archetypes for Founders, Leaders & Impact Investors, Top 100 Global Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior. TEDx X4.

This article was reposted from the Carol Sanford Institute with permission from the author. The original post can be read here.


Education, Regenerative Supply

by Carol Sanford

Phase One: Discern a Living Structured Whole and Avoiding “Part” Thinking

How to know if you are doing something else and calling it Regeneration! Last month I began a series of blogs on the concept of Regeneration. The idea of Regeneration has a very long history of practice.  It comes out of the concept of Living Systems Thinking.  Charles Krone, one of the pioneers of Procter and Gamble’s revolutionary work design, developed something called framework-thinking, which promotes the ability to see wholes at work. The one used here, he called Levels of Work, employed by all P&G Soap employees to understand markets, customers and even soap making, as a living process. The Levels of Work framework enables our understanding of the different kinds of work we take on, in business and other activities. Using it well utilizes a hierarchy of work, some with a better return for innovation, some better for problem solving. Each activity requires different natures or work. He called the base of the hierarchy “operational work,” getting things done and done well. The next level is “maintain or sustain,” how to keep something at its highest level of functioning in a changing ecosystem. “System evolution” level increases the capability of a complex system to evolve over time. Finally, “regeneration work” builds the capacity of wholes to, on an ongoing basis, uniquely bring new value from its role and contribution.  All of these levels are needed, but much is lost if we cannot tell where we are, or worse, fool ourselves. I see this happen with innovation often.  The situation required regenerative work, but often used maintain problem solving tools.

The first blog in this series was an overview of the history, including my forty years with the concept, and the etymology of the term Regeneration as an approach to change and health. When one sets out to work Regeneratively, it is with the intention of Leaping-Frog-300x300finding the full potential of some effort, one that will proceed through seven phases of thinking and acting, where each phase builds and interacts with the others. The use of phases instead of stages allows you to revisit as you move along. Phase One is the subject of this blog, which offers a more in-depth look as the first requirement to even begin thinking about working Regeneratively.  You begin with discerning a living structured whole. When my daughter graduated from Swarthmore College, Tim William, now a professor emeritus, granted her a Distinction in Biology. She had refused to dissect animals and insects, still graduating Phi Beta Kappa, and instead studied them in motion, sometimes with imaging equipment. In appreciation of her wisdom, he offered his own relevant experience in the Peace Corps as a teacher in Zimbabwe. He had invited the young village students to capture frogs and bring them back in jars he provided. He proceeded to show them how to kill the frogs with chloroform using his frog. The children froze and then screamed, all running out of the makeshift classroom. Very shortly, the local Chief emerged and asked why he was teaching the children of the village to kill frogs. Tim explained that is was just a necessity of being able to cut them up to be able to understand a frog. The Chief, with a toothless grin, got down in a squat position and began to leap around croaking, in what Tim reported was a very accurate depiction of frog behavior.  When the Chief rose, he said to Tim, “You cannot understand a frog, without a WHOLE frog doing what frogs do.” He made Tim squat and hop and “be” a frog. Smiling broadly as he walked away, the Chief added, “You have to feel the whole frog in motion, to truly understand.” He had also removed the lids and gleefully watched all the frogs hop back into the brush.

What is a Living Structured Whole?

Think of the human body, both literally and metaphorically. You know it is a whole for one reason. It has structures, systems and processes of its own.

  1. It has a self-contained and containing structure. E.g a skeleton.

  2. It has systemic working systems, which order and organize the working of activity inside the Whole. E.g. digestive, elimination, and cardio-vascular systems.

  3. The processes it engages in make use of a self-managing open exchange, rather than a closed one. E.g eating is an exchange with other systems, repeating, always with fresh material. Closed systems always require the importation of energy from an external system. An open process can engage in value-adding or value-extracting processes with its ecosystem.

Other examples of wholes with structures, systems and processes that meet these criteria are a Customer, Earth, a Place, or an Employee. They each have a self-contained and containing structure, systemic working systems to manage the recurring working of the whole, and the processes that manage exchanges and fuel. A Business example: a corporation means “the body of the whole.”  Some business units are wholes with their own structures, systems and processes. A school most often is within the larger school system. It operates independently as a whole within a whole.

Why regeneration requires a structured whole?

It is the structures, systems and processes that get regenerated. If it is not a living system, it cannot be regenerated. For example, a curriculum or programs, which are “part” of processing, can be upgraded or refreshed, but not regenerated.  In another example, our skeleton can be regenerated, which happens after an accident or bone loss. It is done in the context of the whole body if it is really regenerative, with its unique DNA, in that context and age, and is specific to that person. This happens even beyond the physical, one’s spirit when depressed, for example. 

What happens if we don’t start with a whole?

We promote and work from fragmentation like with bones when seen as a “part” of the body, not structuring for a whole. We seek to treat the “parts” as problems in decline and try to stop the decline (i.e. doing not as bad), or we pursue something generically good, which is not matched with the whole that we want to regenerate.  E.g., medicine when it is not holistic, or sustainability approaches when practiced as parts of the whole (water, forests separately). The undeveloped mind collapses to perceiving parts. We have to learn to see wholes. In business, it leads to having someone supervise all the parts to bring them together. In medicine, we see one specialist after another for different parts of a subsystem.

How do you discern a whole?  How can you avoid fragmentation?

Medicine has been moving toward a holistic view of human health in many quarters.  This means working less to find solutions for symptoms and working to see what health creation might look like for the whole human being. How do we work from what makes systems healthy, like the cardiovascular systems, metabolic systems, and circulatory systems, in the context of the whole in which they are nested? Otherwise, it is working with the “parts of a cut up frog” to understand a living frog. It cannot be understood if it can no longer jump and croak.  What makes the “being” healthy as a whole, working to create vital structures and systems at the same time through regulation of the processes the person engages in. Fragmentation tends to be our default, and it is often hard to break the habit from out training.  Here are some hints

Use a living systems framework that evokes questions that helps us understand the working of a particular “whole.” E.g. the Levels of Work Framework I used to create this blog and many other works. A Framework is not the same thing as a model that shows how to replicate an existing pattern. It can be First Principles, like in classical and quantum physics. Frameworks invite the generation of a pattern, in this time and space, rather than follow a preset pattern. We need models for building airplanes, but not businesses, ecosystems or families. A systems framework is a mechanism for questions rather than answers.

For example, all my books are written with a living system framework. The Responsible Business uses a pentad, a five-term framework for looking at an ecosystem’s vitality, viability and evolution. It invites you to use it as a system rather than divided “parts” of the system . The understanding is not the same from one time to another. Rethinking can invite a higher quality of thinking and energy. It shows the connections and relationships. 1. Examine the characteristics of a Whole:

  1. Ask what structures it contains, as a being or entity.  Not all structures are living systems. Neither a ladder nor a building is living.

  2. What are the systemic systems that keep its life in order?

  3. What does it exchange with other systems? Are its processes only internal ones or exchange ones? Living processes promote exchange.


  1. Lists! – A quick clue you do not have a “whole.”

  2. Functions of a whole, like marketing in a business.

A major challenge of our times is the development of a mind that can see wholes and their working, thus overcoming fragmentation of mind and then fragmented initiative on living beings, like Earth. The next blog is #3, How to See Something Alive and Working Without Cutting It Up Into Fragments Through Dissection.  Once you have a whole frog, how do you understand its working?

Save the Date: First Annual Regenerative Business Summit.  Oct. 18- 20, 2016. From Friday Evening on 18th to Noon on 20th.  Seattle WA. At The Foundry by Herban Feast.
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Carol Sanford is an Educator & Thinking Partner with Game Changing Fortune 500 executives and Rock Star Entrepreneurs for 40 years. Author multi-award winning books The Responsible Business &The Responsible Entrepreneur: Four Game Changing Archetypes for Founders, Leaders & Impact Investors, Top 100 Global Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior. TEDx X4.


Education, Regenerative Supply

by Carol Sanford

Forty years ago, I meet a cadre of business designers and developers who called what they did Regenerative Business Design. They had led a revolution with extraordinary success in Procter & Gamble, which gave the business world a state of the art approach in producing Return on Investment with people and assets. They delivered earnings for the consumer products giant that were the envy of all industries, in an industry whose margins were collapsed to below 5 percent. Their approach to innovation in offerings and business models was copied widely, but mostly without the same level of return, since they did not understand what was behind it. The cadre had already taken the samregene methodology into banks, the chemical, paper, and food industries, among others — each time with phenomenal success! They were the most studied success story of the 1960s though 1980s by Harvard and its famous management faculty: Michael Porter, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Michael Hammer and others. I picked up the mantel in the late 1970s and now have extensive case stories of my own all based on Regenerative Business Design. You can read a few of those in The Responsible Business (I tried to name the book The Regenerative Business, but Jossey Bass told me no one would have heard of such an idea). Sustainability was hot and I was pressured to give it a title to appeal to that market. In the meantime, many beside myself were seeing the incompleteness and shortfall of sustainability and searching for another idea. They knew it had to be more than “less bad,” which the reigning practices suggested (and still do)!

Many consultants, conference planners and authors adopted new terms seeking to show how they were moving “beyond sustainability” (that was my editor’s first idea for my book title). The dissatisfied folks tried out “resilience.” They revived “restoration.” Some tried “renewal,” which had been popular in the pre-sustainability days. And then a few started picking up the term “regeneration” and running with it. It was a lot sexier and less worn. Regenerative Economies. Regenerative Cities. Regenerative Business. But using the term and understanding its deep meaning is a lot like what happened at P&G. Borrowing an idea does not produce the outcomes and transformation as much as going deeply into the meaning of the idea. This is the beginning of a series of blogs to take us deeply into the history, the practice, and even the etymology and science of regeneration.

Definition of Regeneration from our School of Thought?

A paradigm and accompanying set of capabilities that consider any life form as singular, able to express and grow itself to contribute that essential singularity, over time, to nested wholes in which it is embedded, with reciprocity. It can only be regenerated if pursued as a value-adding process.

That is a lot of ideas, but it takes them all to be regenerative. Let’s look at each one. As a paradigm, regeneration is based on ideas and beliefs about how the world really works. Not how it should work but does. It differs from a worldview, which is how we ought to live, whereas a paradigm is what we count as knowledge. Regeneration has its basis in science of living systems. Particularly the science of life based on DNA and the ability of living entities to bring into existence a form that draws on but evolved based on context, a version of an entity. It is unique to each entity, and further, it evolves to fit the age and context of the entity, or part thereof, being regenerated. As a capability, it makes it clear that it does not prescribe a “doing,” but rather an ableness that has to be built to see the world through a different lens. It requires education and development to avoid falling into a familiar but incomplete way of seeing, much like we begin to see those close to us incompletely and even as fixed. The capabilities are not part of a traditional education, or even an advanced education, for the most part. Its singularity specifies that no two living entities are identical, particularly at the level of their physical and even being DNA. They each have an essence, a distinctive unrepeatable core that is never created again, except by regeneration from which it emanates. It lives and thrives or dies based on the nested wholes in which it lives. Biota lives in soil, embedded into vegetation, in a specific watershed and ecosystem. Nothing is isolated and much is determined by other aspects of the system. But each entity contributes to it working effectively or else it is extractive from the health of the whole. That is the reciprocity. Understanding the working of the nested whole allows humans to intervene beneficially and not extractively. Seeing any entity or endeavor as a value adding process means to see it alive and unfolding toward more of its Essence. More of who or what it is! It leads to releasing more potential — e.g. once you know the chemical sodium cyanide has an essence of binding (most used to extract gold), you can see it as able to ‘bind’ other toxic materials and extract them. This takes a currently used toxic chemical and puts it back to its core task. Healthy soil receives a seed, which it and the ecosystem nurture. It grows into a mature plant throwing off food and new offspring. See it at any point in time, or studying on that phase of its life, it’s cutting it apart into non-living parts. The same is true of the human body. It cannot be segmented to be understood, in spite of what your biology teacher told you when cutting up frogs and fetal pigs. That is seeing a living process and the value adding that takes place at each phase toward the contribution to the next and to the end product or next cycle.

In the next blog, I will look at seven phases of regeneration that are required before an endeavor or entity can claim it is working regeneratively. And later we will look at the six essential value adding processes that are necessary for promoting health, vitality, viability and evolution of any entity or endeavor.

Save the Date: First Annual Regenerative Business Summit. Oct. 18- 20, 2016. From Friday Evening on 18th to Noon on 20th.  Seattle WA. At The Foundry by Herban Feast.  I am looking for the link that was in recent newsletters to sign up for further info. You may know where it is. I will send when i find. Get Notified: 

Carol Sanford is an Educator & Thinking Partner with Game Changing Fortune 500 executives and Rock Star Entrepreneurs for 40 years. Author multi-award winning books The Responsible Business &The Responsible Entrepreneur: Four Game Changing Archetypes for Founders, Leaders & Impact Investors, Top 100 Global Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior. TEDx X4.

This article was reposted from Sustainable Brands with permission from the author. The original post can be read here.


Education, Regenerative Supply


The Regenerative Business Summit will bring together a highly curated, invitation-only set of business owners and leaders with a stake in six essential value-adding business streams: fooding, sheltering, transacting, adorning, recreating and communing. Summit participants will build lasting alliances and ventures in and across these six streams, ultimately pushing the edge of social and planetary change. Through our blog, publications, webinars, workshops, and an annual summit held each fall, we invite established and emerging business leaders from the six essential value-adding business streams to identify product, service and process innovations that can be tested and evolved by individual business or across sectors.

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