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From Environmentalism to Regeneration: What We Need to Do Differently This Earth Day

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I've heard "green" products companies discuss Earth Day as "Christmas for Environmentalists." Go out and buy, or give someone you love, some organic shampoo, a non-toxic green cleaning product, or a pound of Fair Trade, shade-grown coffee. Now, I'm not one to knock "green" products, but we aren't going to save our planet, stop global climate change, or ensure we have an adequate supply of fresh water by buying more stuff -- no matter what kind of stuff it is.

We live on a sick planet. Our topsoil is degraded, our fresh water polluted, our bodies poisoned with toxic chemicals, and our oceans stripped of the fish we will so desperately need to feed future generations. There is little about this current state of affairs that we will want to sustain.

Sustainability, a state we never came close to achieving, is no longer enough.

Regeneration is what is required.

What is it? Regeneration is a biological concept that explains a process of renewal, repair, restoration, and re-growth. Think cradle-to-cradle, versus cradle-to-grave. The approach makes cells, organs, organisms, and ecosystems resilient to natural fluctuations, or events that cause disturbance or damage. Every species is capable of regeneration, from bacteria to humans.

Regenerative design integrates the needs of society with the integrity of nature. We see it in architecture, for example. The Brattleboro Coop, in my home state of Vermont, gives the community a regenerative grocery store, one that integrates with the local food and farm economy and environment.

Yet, renewal, repair, restoration, and re-growth, are not ideas we see on a grander scale. How many products or companies have any of these words in their mission or vision? Not many. In fact, nowhere near enough.

But, there are a few. Here are some of my favorites and a few of the reasons why I consider them regenerative businesses.

  • Organic Valley. Organic dairy products, grown by family farmers, organized as a cooperative business.
  • Namaste Solar. Another cooperative business (worker ownership is essential to creating a just, equitable and regenerative business) that installs solar panels. Namaste's mission is to propagate the responsible use of solar energy, pioneer conscientious business practices, and create holistic wealth for itself and itscommunity.
  • The Grameen Bank. Despite the critics of micro-enterprise, Grameen has lent $11.35 billion to more than eight million extremely poor borrowers, 96 percent of whom are women. Grameen changes lives, eliminates poverty, and restores dignity and in process reduces domestic violence, and increases the likelihood that children attend school.
  • Dr. Hauschka uses predominantly pure organic, biodynamic grown raw ingredients for its medicines, cleansers, toners, and moisturizers. Visitors to the garden are asked to switch off their cell phones to avoid disturbing the harmony of nature. Biodynamic farming is a system that builds the health of the soil. The original owners gave up their stakes in 1986, creating a foundation that is legally owned by the German public, and hence can never be sold.
  • John Todd Ecological Design regenerates wastewater into water pure enough to drink. Using only plants and fish, Todd's wastewater systems are able to naturally purify the most toxic, contaminated water.

This Earth Day, we need to make a commitment to asking a new set of questions about what in the past we accepted as "good," but should be more appropriately defined as "less bad."

I challenge you to ask yourself: What is a good product? A product from a company committed to renewal, repair and restoration?

About Jeffrey Hollender
Jeffrey Hollender is is the founder of Jeffrey Hollender Partners, a business strategy consulting firm and the co-founder and former CEO of Seventh Generation, which he built into a leading brand known for its authenticity, transparency, and progressive business practices. He is the Board Chair of the Greenpeace Fund US and a board member of Verite as well as the co-founder and Board Chair of the American Sustainable Business Council. Please visit www.jeffreyhollender.com to learn more and visit Jeffrey's blog.