Over the past twenty-five years of sustainability consulting, I have seen that “less bad” ways of approaching humanity’s impact on living systems can only take us so far. I believe reconciling our relationship with the ecosystems upon which we depend by owning that impact and seeking to change its character from “less bad” to “what does good look like” is crucial now and into the coming decades. This work is complex, and we need the skills to hold that complexity, to work with these dynamic processes, in a sustained way, over generations towards a thriving future, not a compromised one.
This is the work of regenerative practice.
In my view, the regenerative view opens two significant areas of potential:
Turning towards “what does good look like?” reconnects us with a value-based way of looking at our relationship with the land and other living beings rather than a things-based, extractive way. It allows us to imagine what is the value-add for you and the systems within which you are nested, now and into the future. Suddenly, this is alive and about relationships and connection.
It frames this as an abundant conversation based on the premise that we are here to be a contribution. It is an invitation for us to evolve, discern our place and our role, and work on becoming that. What are the systems I am nested within? What do they look like when they are thriving? What do they want to express/be more of? How might I support that? Perhaps even become essential to that? What am I uniquely able to contribute so that in making this contribution, I also become more capable, more able to thrive/express/be more of for myself?
Through my work in Australia, I have seen strong parallels between the regenerative practice perspective and local Indigenous ways of being and being in relationship to living systems. I have been very curious about what those resonances could produce if we combined them more intentionally. If we could weave Indigenous knowledge of our ecosystems with our current analytical tools, some powerful results could emerge.
The Impact Fund allowed me to spend some time deeply considering these questions and working with my co-author and colleague, Robin Hawker, in Canada. The act of wrangling these nascent notions into written form generated some specific questions I could ask more experienced people for additional help, including Dr. Anne Poelina, Dr. Dominique Hes, Bill Reed, and Joel Glanzberg; their insights gave me valuable guidance in focusing the essay. Iteratively sharing ideas and experiences around what makes it different to work from these worldviews helped me clarify my thinking. I then directed that curiosity toward a possible manifestation in the world.
The essay that resulted from this process articulates what I see as the necessary shift in mindset and the unrealized potential of a regenerative approach informed by the deep indigenous knowledge of the places we practice. Having done this work, we’re now able to act, whereas before, this was something I noticed but had not brought into focus.
In tai chi practice, we talk about converting chi, a soft, glowing energy field, into fa jin, a directed spike of energy focused on a target. Chi must be developed so that the fa jin release has power. The internal work of writing this paper has built up the will and clarity to apply that energy, and it will have more impact because of that clarity.
I am looking forward to seeing what happens next!
Artist Acknowledgement: Lani Balzan
Title: Coming Together
The artwork in this report was created for Introba, representing their journey paths and commitment to helping close the gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and Non-Indigenous Australians.
This essay explores the strong parallels between the worldview of Regenerative Practice and Indigenous ways of being and being in relationship to living systems in Australia.
As practitioners in the built environment, we’re specifically interested in how the application of these ideas to our work can support and enable a thriving world.
What outcomes could these resonances produce if we implement them intentionally in our design practice?
Mary is a sustainability consultant with over 25 years of international and Australian experience across projects in nearly every building type. Combining innovative strategy with practical implementation experience, she assists her clients in confidently setting ambitious objectives, defining requirements, and managing diverse teams to deliver results that exceed expectations.
Her stakeholder engagement approach gets to the shared values of disparate groups, allowing her to pursue an optimal outcome, producing exceptional results for both the client and the community as a whole. She is a recognized leader in the field of ecologically restorative design and regenerative practice.
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