Sustainability is not enough: we need regenerative cultures

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Originally posted on

Written by Daniel C. Wahl

Sustainability alone is not an adequate goal. The word sustainability itself is inadequate, as it does not tell us what we are actually trying to sustain. In 2005, after spending two years working on my doctoral thesis on design for sustainability, I began to realize that what we are actually trying to sustain is the underlying pattern of health, resilience and adaptability that maintain this planet in a condition where life as a whole can flourish. Design for sustainability is, ultimately, design for human and planetary health (Wahl, 2006b).

A regenerative human culture is healthy, resilient and adaptable; it cares for the planet and it cares for life in the awareness that this is the most effective way to create a thriving future for all of humanity. The concept of resilience is closely related to health, as it describes the ability to recover basic vital functions and bounce back from any kind of temporary breakdown or crisis. When we aim for sustainability from a systemic perspective, we are trying to sustain the pattern that connects and strengthens the whole system. Sustainability is first and foremost about systemic health and resilience at different scales, from local, to regional and global.