Shifting from Sustainability to Regeneration

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* Article: Forum: Shifting from 'sustainability' to regeneration. By Bill Reed. Building Research and Information 35(6):674-680, November 2007. DOI: 10.1080/09613210701475753

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"Sustainability, as currently practised in the built environment, is primarily an exercise in efficiency. In other words, the use of environmental rating systems and other mechanisms allows a reduction in the damage caused by excessive resource use. However, instead of doing less damage to the environment, it is necessary to learn how one can participate with the environment by using the health of ecological systems as a basis for design. The shift from a fragmented to a whole systems model is the significant cultural leap that consumer society needs to make - through framing and understanding living system interrelationships in an integrated way. A place-based approach is one way to achieve this understanding. The design process begins by attempting to understand how the systems of life work in each unique place. The role of designers and stakeholders is to create a whole system of mutually beneficial relationships. By doing so, the potential for green design moves beyond sustaining the environment to one that can regenerate its health - as well as our own."


Bill Reed on the Hierarchy of More Inclusive Environmental Design Approaches

Bill Reed:

"Note that these levels of the sustainability trajectory are not exclusive of one another, they are a progression, and each is nested in the more whole level.

All practice levels are necessary to achieve the change required:

Issue-based approaches (fragmented as currently practised)

Limiting the damage

High-performance design

"Design that realizes high efficiency and reduced impact in the building structure, operations, and site activities. This term can imply a more technical efficiency approach to design and may limit an embrace of the larger natural system benefits.


Green design

A general term implying a direction of improvement in design, i.e. continual improvement towards a generalized ideal of doing no harm. Some people believe this is more applicable to buildings and technology.

Sustainable design

See ‘Green Design’ with an emphasis on reaching a point of being able to sustain the health of the planet’s organisms and systems over time.

Living system approaches (increasingly more whole)


Restorative design

This approach thinks about design in terms of using the activities of design and building to restore the capability of local natural systems to a healthy state of self-organization.

Reconciliation design

This design process acknowledges that humans are an integral part of nature and that human and natural systems are one.


Regenerative design

This is a design process that engages and focuses on the evolution of the whole of the system of which we are part. Logically, our place – community, watershed and bioregion – is the sphere in which we can participate. By engaging all the key stakeholders and processes of the place – humans, other biotic systems, earth systems, and the consciousness that connects them – the design process builds the capability of people and the ‘more than human’ participants to engage in continuous and healthy relationship through co-evolution. The design process draws from and supports continuous learning through feedback, reflection and dialogue, so that all aspects of the system are an integral part of the process of life in that place. Such processes tap into the consciousness and spirit of the people engaged in a place, the only way to sustain sustainability."


More information

Graph at (Figure 1 Trajectory of Environmentally Responsible Design Reed p. 676)