Regenerative Capitalism - A snowman’s perspective in a world on fire Paul Hainey, purpose-driven sustainability strategist and business architect
Behavioural psychology is an aspect of sustainability leadership which is hugely important but often overlooked.
Prof. Rebecca Henderson from HBS observes that “The successful purpose-driven leaders I know are [dichotomous] in their ability to switch from a ruthless focus on the bottom line to passionately advocating for the greater good” (1). Personally, as a sustainability leader, I find that I’m increasingly forced to function at Kegan’s Level 5 in that “I hold many identities, I embrace paradox” (2) (3). I won’t lie, I find this tough.
My solution to help me manage this, is that I externalize these conflicting identities as imaginary characters in the physical world. My sustainability persona is a one-foot-tall snowman I observed on top of one of the handrails on Queens Bridge, over the River Tay, on the eastern edge of Perth City Centre. I often use his photo as a background for my video calls. Folks commonly assume that he’s an urbane, charming little chap. Nothing could be further from the truth! He’s grumpy, disagreeable, quick to judge and anger, but most of all he’s incredibly impatient. He feeds on URGENCY, “The fierce urgency of now” as MLK once put it (4). Why is he grumpy and impatient? It’s obvious really – he’s melting. This is an existential crisis for him. In this respect he shares a demographic with all of us, the world over. We stare into the abyss of potential social and environmental collapse in future generations.
What about collective, rather than individual behavioural psychology though? Can we as a species adopt collective behavioural tools to help us manage our existential crisis? One of the most promising ideas I’ve seen in a long time in this area is that of regeneration. More specifically, the notion that we can build regeneration into our de-facto Global-North-West behavioural pattern of Capitalism to form Regenerative Capitalism (RC). This idea pushes the boundaries way beyond mainstream sustainability thinking. Rather than merely seeking to maintain things at an acceptable level into the future, regeneration looks to exponentially improve things over time. Building this into Capitalism itself in a business-as-usual sense would allow us to become “Pollinators”. Analogous to bees chasing nectar who inadvertently transfer pollen, capitalists who chase Enterprise Value could inadvertently create System Value for society and/or the environment. Not quite inadvertently perhaps, we’d need conscious effort in design and behaviour change, but (unlike my snowman) the idea’s certainly got legs.
Earlier this year at Fife and Tayside IoD branch we were privileged to welcome experts from the think tank Volans (5) to provide a virtual learning session on the topic of RC.
CEO, Louise Kjellerup Roper, briefed us on the fundamentals of RC including the three core design principles of:
• Learning from Nature (Biomimicry (6))
• Circularity (7)
Senior Pollinator, Pauline Silverman, shared her inspiring work using RC in the regeneration of the River Leven area in Fife (8) as well as her sage advice to “be bold”.
Following the session, I looked around our region and found many examples of regenerative organisations with the potential to help us in our RC endeavours.
• Further west from the River Leven lies the beautiful Loch Leven National Nature Reserve (9), part of the same aquatic ecosystem. Here NatureScot is currently involved in the creation of a highly regenerative type of value network known as a “Land Enterprise Network” (LENs).
• In Perth City, Giraffe Trading (10) draws boldness from its “long brass neck” (11) in using high quality ingredients which would otherwise be wasted to produce top class meals from its kitchens. These are then distributed to local outlets and used to create social value in the Giraffe City Centre café. The hugely regenerative aspect is the social enterprise which provides training, skills, and employment to citizens who might otherwise be left behind in society. This augments the diverse, inclusive, high-quality Human Skills Capital reserves within Perth into future generations, as part of an embryonic Social Enterprise Network (SEN).
• One of my biggest bugbears with modern society is its seemingly endless obsession with banal technology. Is crypto an actual currency? Are NFTs assets? Do either carry value? Who cares. A traditional, regenerative, indigenous store of intergenerational equity sits right beneath our noses – seeds. The Perthshire Seed Library (12) plays its part in preserving Scotland’s “Seed Sovereignty” for future generations (13).
While I’m on a roll, I’m going to stick my own brass neck out; maybe we can combine LENs, SENs, and intergenerational equity to ensure a regenerative intergenerational economy for Fife and Tayside to see us well into a prosperous future?
What about the grumpy wee guy on top of Queens Bridge though? Well, despite the anti-social behaviour stemming from his existential angst, he’s got it all figured out. Sure, he’ll melt. His pebble eyes will fall into the Tay to become part of the riverbed. His twiggy arms will float 400m downstream to be picked up by the first wild, city-dwelling beaver colony in the UK for hundreds of years (14). Even his body will dissolve and be carried out into the North Sea via Dundee. Not only this though, but he’s also playing you and I like fiddles. His regeneration strategy leverages our species’ playful, cultural desire to sculpt its own form from snow. He’s got the regenerative trinity of biomimicry, circularity and alignment licked. His bold behaviour assures his future into eternity. Can ours?
This is a guest blog and therefore does not necessarily represent the views of the Institute of Directors.
1. Henderson, Rebecca M. Re-inventing Capitalism in a World On Fire. New York City : Hachette USA, 2020.
2. Mallel, Natali. Part 1: How To Be An Adult – Kegan’s Theory of Adult Development. Medium. [Online] 28 September 2017. [Cited: 17 March 2023.] https://medium.com/@NataliMorad/how-to-be-an-adult-kegans-theory-of-adult-development-d63f4311b553.
3. Kegan, Robert. In Over Our Heads – The Mental Demands of Modern Life. Cambridge, MA : Harvard University Press, 1998. ISBN 9780674445888.
4. King, Martin L. I Have A Dream. [Speech] Washington, DC : s.n., 1963.
5. Volans. Volans. The Business of Business is Change. [Online] Volans, 2022. [Cited: 17th March 2023.] https://volans.com/.
6. The Biomimicry Institute. Humanity’s Biggest Challenges. Nature’s Proven Solutions. Nature Inspired Innovation. [Online] The Biomimicry Institute, 2023. [Cited: 17th March 2023.] https://biomimicry.org/.
7. Ellen Macarthur Foundation. What is a circular economy? How to Build a Circular Economy? | Ellen Macarthur Foundation. [Online] Ellen Macarthur Foundation, 2023. [Cited: 17th March 2023.] https://ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/topics/circular-economy-introduction/overview.
8. Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA). Going with the Flow. The Leven Programme. [Online] Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA). [Cited: 17th March 2023.] https://www.theleven.org/.
9. NatureScot. Loch Leven National Nature Reserve. NatureScot. [Online] NatureScot, 2020. [Cited: 17th March 2023.] https://www.nature.scot/enjoying-outdoors/visit-our-nature-reserves/loch-leven-national-nature-reserve.
10. Giraffe Trading. We are Giraffe, Perth! Giraffe. [Online] Giraffe Trading, 2023. [Cited: 17th March 2023.] https://www.giraffe-trading.co.uk/.
11. Reekie, Graeme. Why Giraffes have brass necks – system leadership in practice. The Lasting Difference. [Online] Wren and Greyhound Limited, January 2023. [Cited: 17th March 2023.] https://www.thelastingdifference.com/why-giraffes-have-brass-necks-system-leadership-in-practice/.
12. Culture Perth & Kinross. Perthshire Seed Library. Culture Perth & Kinross. [Online] Flintriver, 2016. [Cited: 17th March 2023.] https://www.culturepk.org.uk/libraries/perthshire-seed-library/.
13. The Gaia Foundation. Category: Scotland. Seed Sovereignty. [Online] Giant Peach, 2018. [Cited: 17th March 2023.] https://www.seedsovereignty.info/category/scotland/.
14. British Broadcasting Corporation. Perth becomes first UK city centre with resident beavers. BBC News. [Online] BBC, 18th February 2021. [Cited: 17th March 2023.] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-tayside-central-56111873.